Public libraries have come a long way from the purely functional and practical spaces and places they were in the 80s and 90s.

Imagine a time when pragmatism took precedence over aesthetics; a time when air conditioned food courts and buses were the exception rather than the norm; a time in our history when function held sway over form. We are not far off from the 1980s and early 1990s when there were fewer public libraries. Library spaces have quickly evolved into inviting places, softened by understated lighting and well-thought out spaces that Singaporeans can enjoy.

As our population changed over the years, people’s needs and wants for their libraries have also evolved. We take a look at how these library spaces have transformed as the various designs take into account the users’ perspectives.

Pasir Ris Public Library

(Photo credits: NLB Singapore) 

 Re-opened on 28 November 2015 after a nine-month closure for renovations, this library stands out as a next-generation library through its various digital initiatives, aligning itself with Singapore’s Smart Nation agenda.

Residents in the area had a big say on the library’s focus and design. “The Pasir Ris Public Library is in many ways, built by the community, for the community. We wanted a library which caters to the needs of the residents of Pasir Ris and neighbouring estates, with spaces that will inspire reading and learning,” said Mrs Elaine Ng, Chief Executive Officer of the National Library Board Singapore, in a media release. 


(Photo by NLB Singapore)

Located within White Sands Shopping Centre, it is the first mall library with a dedicated space managed by teens for teens. Called the Teens’ Mezzanine, the space is managed by youth volunteers aged 13 to 19 from the Inspiring Readers Society. These volunteers curate the book displays and even lead programmes targeted at teens.

Book descriptions have also taken up a digital edge. The Book Trailers at the Teens’ Mezzanine feature promotional video trailers or slideshows done up by the librarians or publishers on the recommended titles for teen readers. 


(Photo credits: NLB Singapore)

The library also showcases technological innovations that enhance library experiences for both readers and staff. One such feature is the ReadNext Screen, which performs a real-time detection scan of the library user to determine his or her age and gender when standing in front of the kiosk. It then offers real-time title recommendations based on the user’s profile and the physical titles available for loan in the library! 

Jurong Regional Library

Would you associate a public library with a technology laboratory? In November 2015, the Jurong Regional Library became the first public library to host an IDA Labs facility. With a dedicated space for hands-on experimentation with gadgets, IDA Labs@NLB focuses on bringing technology to the community. The initiative hopes to encourage and cultivate a mindset of experimentation and curiosity in Singapore youth. 


(Photo credits: NLB Singapore)

Occupying much of the second floor of the library, the IDA Labs@NLB houses equipment such as 3D printers as well as curated technology kits for public use. IDA and some of their partners also run talks and workshops for the public to familiarise themselves with the technology available at the Lab. For hardcore techies, they can play with technologies and build simple prototypes, such as designing programming modules for robots at the Lab. You can find out when the next workshop at the IDA Labs@NLB happens here.



(Photo credits: NLB Singapore)

 Making a return after a 7-year hiatus, the library@orchard came back to the Singapore shopping belt in October 2014. Located at Orchard Gateway Shopping Centre, the design philosophy driving the use of space at this library is “Design is for Everyone”, where members of the public can imbibe and browse a carefully assembled collection dedicated to design. After a year of its reopening, the library scored a momentous anniversary gift by clinching the prestigious President’s Design Award for its outstanding interior design.


(Photo credits: NLB Singapore)

Divided between two floors, the library boasts the largest collection of books on design, lifestyle and the applied arts in Singapore. Walls of magazines with titles such as Disegno and BITE (that are new and exclusive to library@orchard) also cater to young adults visiting the library, some of whom are looking for a short respite from the relentless buzz of shopping that saturates Orchard Road.  


(Photo credits: NLB Singapore)

 Two standout designed spaces at the library would be the Cocoon, inspired by nature to offer users a space that is conducive for deep thought and inspiration, and the Loft, a cosy attic-like space on the upper level crafted with comfortable nooks and crannies for visitors to read, explore and ponder over design ideas.


Working closely with the Workforce Development Agency (WDA), LLiBrary is the first public library focused on providing patrons with books and materials that will help them in their bid to continuously learn and improve themselves, and aid their lifelong learning goals. A five-minute walk from Paya Lebar MRT, visitors can find books on career advancement, skills upgrading and self-help here.


(Photo credits: NLB Singapore)

The design theme of LLibrary is based on the concept of The Ascension of Knowledge. As one moves deeper into the LLibrary, you would notice that the bookshelves become progressively taller, which is meant to symbolize how we gain more knowledge if we keep on the journey of lifelong learning.


With a thematic collection of titles on calligraphy, literature, music, painting, traditions, customs and more, library@chinatown is the first themed library inspired by Chinese culture and artistic endeavour.



(Photo credits: NLB Singapore)

Located in the heart of Chinatown, it is also the first volunteer-run library with no official staff counter. The library’s volunteers come in their library@chinatown volunteer T-shirts and help to sort and shelve returned books, as well as assist library patrons.

Seniors appreciate the dedicated sections with materials in Chinese dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese, and we spot some materials in English, Malay and Tamil language too. The collection on Chinese arts and culture were selected after consultation with representatives from the Chinese literati community. Having a dedicated space to curating our past and serving as a vehicle to pass on cultural treasures like oral history, art and language is definitely the ideal way to honour our past and build our future.