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Jammin' with books

Libraries have become lifestyle centres and host activities ranging from pop concerts to dance classes to stargazing

Published on Jun 15, 2014 4:53 PM

There is a place in town where you can watch a concert, play board games, pick up cooking tips at a demonstration and even star-gaze, for free.

The place is the library.

Public libraries are more than book lenders these days, offering a host of lifestyle activities - from workshops and performances to professional networking sessions. While some activities require prior registration, almost all are free, with materials provided.

And library users are lapping these activities up.

Mrs Sae Then, a quantity surveyor, goes to public libraries every weekend, mostly to take part in such sessions.

She and her three children - Thea, 12, Jerome, eight, and Jacob, five - have taken part in more than 30 activities since last June. Most are arts-related, such as pottery, calligraphy and book-binding.

"Initially, I signed my kids up to keep them occupied during the June holidays," says Mrs Then, 41, who is married to a research and development manager. "But the classes were free and so interesting that I signed up myself."

The family, who lives in Woodlands, has travelled to libraries as far as Tampines and Jurong to attend activities.

For example, her kids participated in a hip-hop dance class at Sengkang Public Library last Sunday.

The National Library Board, which manages the National Library and all 25 public libraries in Singapore, started offering more programmes in recent years. These programmes are typically conducted in designated programme zones within the library, separate from the main reading area.

The idea is to enhance readers' learning experience, says Ms Jasna Dhansukhlal, 39, the board's assistant director of library services and management.

She says: "Libraries are social learning spaces, and these programmes can spark an interest in reading among our users. For example, after attending a concert, users might want to read about the artist, or genre of music, from our collections."

She adds: "As work, learning and play increasingly overlap, it is no surprise that more users are requesting such activities, and we try to accommodate as much as we can."

Indeed, some library patrons are reading more after turning up for the activities.

Mrs Then's family, for example, typically borrows about 10 library books every month. But they sometimes borrow more after attending activities.

Says Mrs Then: "Last June, I attended a collage-making workshop. I was so amazed at being able to make art without drawing that I borrowed three books on collage-making on the spot.

"But if we hadn't done the activity before, we might have found the book boring."

Another user, Mrs Dorothy Tan, 39, has attended more than 50 activities with her family - from clay modelling to making leather crafts - all for free.

Says the insurance agent, who has two daughters aged five and seven: "People say Singapore is very expensive to live in. But they overlook the many free activities available to us at the library.

"The activities don't need much time commitment, and provide an introduction to topics such as graffiti and mixing music. They are a good starting point for learning."

While users in general should minimise their noise level in the library, some noise may be accepted during programmes, says the library's Ms Jasna.

The first library to offer such lifestyle programmes was the former library@orchard, opened from 1999 to 2007, in Ngee Ann City shopping centre.

Talks, forums, exhibitions and performances were held at the lifestyle- oriented library, which also had a cafe and listening stations playing pop, dance, jazz, world music, soundtracks and classical music.

The new library@orchard is due to open in October this year at the new fashion mall orchardgateway.

Assistant Professor Natalie Pang, 37, from the Nanyang Technological University says similar activities are being offered by libraries around the world.

Says the lecturer in the university's division of inform- ation studies, who recently wrote a paper on how youth use public libraries: "There's a trend towards greater convergence of institutions... people want to be in a place that offers them everything they need - to read, experience, gaze and experiment."

She notes that in Australia, some libraries have even been renamed "learning centres" to free themselves from stereotypes of libraries as places where people just go to borrow books.

For example, in 2012, the Craigieburn Library in Victoria was renamed the Hume Global Learning Centre, with the construction of a new building housing the former library. This new learning centre also has a cafe, gallery and exhibition space, as well as seminar and conference facilities.

Nonetheless, Prof Pang feels activities alone are not enough to encourage users to pick up a book.

She says: "It is about designing the entire learning experience. Activities should relate back to the resources of the library."

Says civil servant Tham Yong Hsiang, 36, who attends free board game sessions at the Serangoon Public Library once every two months to play games such as Ticket To Ride and Pandemic: "If not for the gaming sessions, I won't go to the library.

"I don't borrow books because most don't interest me.

"Maybe if there were more books on board games, I might consider reading them," adds the board game enthusiast, who is married to an accountant.



Who says you must be quiet at the library? Tap and boogie away at dance workshops that provide introductions to Bollywood dance and ballet.

If you do not want to do the dancing yourself, there are also performances you can watch.

Jazz (Junior)

Where: Geylang East Public Library, activity room

When: Today, 2 to 3pm

What: At this dance workshop for children aged five to seven, participants will be introduced to the world of jazz through music and movement. They will be taught basic jazz techniques, such as spins, turns and how to point their feet. They will also be encouraged to showcase their individual style, to relax and to move to the music.

Admission: Free but registration required. Limited to 30 participants. Should the workshop be fully registered and you would like to be placed on the waiting list, please e-mail temp_coe@nlb.gov.sg.

Flute showcase

Where: Marine Parade Public Library, programme zone

When: July 6, 4 to 5pm

What: Come listen to teachers and students from the Flute and Music Academy perform familiar tunes such as Amazing Grace and Greensleeves.

Admission: Free and registration not required

Play an instrument

Those looking to hone their musical talents can rent the piano practice room or the silent studio – a rehearsal space where the instruments played can be heard only through headphones – at the library@esplanade.

Renting the piano practice room – which has a Cristofori upright piano and a Clavinova digital piano – in the library costs $6.10 an hour, compared to more than $30 an hour at some commercial music schools.

Rental of the silent studio, which has electric, acoustic and bass guitars, a digital piano and an electronic drumset, is $6.50 an hour. Commercial music studios say they charge from $20 to $25 an hour to rent out their studios.

Info: Bookings may be made at the library’s customer service counter.


Dabble in a range of arts and craft, at these in-library workshops - from animation, stencil art, still-life drawing to watercolour painting.

Book-Inspired Pop Up Craft Party!

Where: Tampines Regional Library

When: Friday, 2 to 4pm

What: At this craft session, create posters showcasing quotes from books. Participants can use materials such as watercolours and crayons, and write in various fonts at this walk-in session.

Admission: Free and registration not required. Limited to the first 60 participants. Children below the age of nine must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, please e-mail rohana_akhbar @nlb.gov.sg

Animate it in 2D!

Where: Bukit Merah Public Library, activity room

When: June 28, 4 to 6pm

What: You can pick up some basic 2D animation skills, such as storyboarding, at this workshop for parent-child pairs.

Participants can learn how to tell a simple story through animation. They will also be taught how to think creatively, organise their thoughts and use animation software.

Admission: Free but registration required. Each registration allows one parent-child pair to enter. Children should be at least seven years old.

Should the programme be fully booked and you would like to be put on the waiting list, e-mail your name and contact number to naadhirah_ridza@nlb.gov.sg with the programme title as the subject.


Regular activities organised by groups and individuals

Stargazing in Singapore

Where: Toa Payoh Public Library, programme zone

When: July 5, 7.30 to 8.30pm

What: Learn to read simple star charts and observe celestial objects at this star-gazing session, held on the first Saturday of every month.

IT consultant Gary Chee, 41, an astronomy enthusiast, will lead the group to study stars through his telescope. About 200 people turn up for each session.

Admission: Free and registration not required

Game On! - Board Games

Where: Serangoon Public Library, programme zone

When: Today, 2 to 6pm

What: Enjoy board games, such as Ticket To Ride and Pandemic, with members of the Singapore Boardgames Meetup group. There are sessions once every two months.

The board games are provided, and previous sessions have drawn up to 50 people, mostly in their 20s to 40s.

Admission: Free and registration not required

Food Memories: Nyonya Delights

Where: Woodlands Regional Library, programme zone

When: July 20, 2 to 4pm

What: Madam Tay Tong San, 55, a culinary instructor, will demonstrate how to cook local heritage dishes such as laksa and corn kueh. This is part of a series of cooking demonstrations aimed at capturing food memories of Singaporeans, as part of the Singapore Memory Project - Memory Maker Series.

Admission: Free but registration required. Each session is limited to 50 participants. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Users can register at library e-kiosks or at www.nlb.gov.sg/golibrary


Since last month, you can rent a workspace at Jurong Regional Library, Geylang East Public Library or Toa Payoh Public Library.

These three libraries each has a smart work centre with private workstations, meeting rooms, secure Wi-Fi, as well as printing, photocopying and video conferencing services.

Rental charges range from about $20 a day for desk space to $399 a month for a private cubicle. Hourly rentals for workspaces are also available.

Photo identification is required to use the centre and walk-ins are allowed.

Online portal JobStreet.com has also been co-organising regular talk-cum- networking sessions since 2001 for professionals to learn about trends within various industries.

Between 70 and 100 people show up at each session, which is held six to eight times a year.

JobStreet.com's Industry Nites: Careers In the Communications & Media industry

Where: Central Public Library, multipurpose room

When: July 8, 7 to 8.30pm

What: Experts from the communications and media industry will speak on upcoming industry trends and the employment marketplace in general. The session can benefit those who are looking to meet industry experts or looking for a career switch or career advancement.

Admission: Free but registration required. To register, send an e-mail to events-sg@jobstreet.com with the subject "Careers In the Communications & Media Industry".

Indicate your name and the number of guests attending.

An acknowledgement will be sent to you by July 7.