Shh... NLB takes a gentler approach to noise

These bookmarks are among the materials designed by ST artist Lee Chee Chew that use humour to influence social behaviour. Volunteer Saberah Begum (right), a pre-school teacher, passing a bookmark and explaining good library habits to Zuhairah Ubaidi
These bookmarks are among the materials designed by ST artist Lee Chee Chew that use humour to influence social behaviour. Volunteer Saberah Begum (right), a pre-school teacher, passing a bookmark and explaining good library habits to Zuhairah Ubaidillah, eight, seen here with her father Mohamad Ubaidillah Rafet, 35, at Sengkang Public Library.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
These bookmarks are among the materials designed by ST artist Lee Chee Chew that use humour to influence social behaviour. Volunteer Saberah Begum (right), a pre-school teacher, passing a bookmark and explaining good library habits to Zuhairah Ubaidi
These bookmarks are among the materials designed by ST artist Lee Chee Chew that use humour to influence social behaviour. Volunteer Saberah Begum (right), a pre-school teacher, passing a bookmark and explaining good library habits to Zuhairah Ubaidillah, eight, seen here with her father Mohamad Ubaidillah Rafet, 35, at Sengkang Public Library.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

Library board ropes in pre-school teachers to persuade noisy kids to pipe down

On a visit to the Sengkang Public Library recently, pre-school teacher Saberah Begum scanned the place quickly.

But what she was looking out for was not her favourite romance, cookery or travel titles but children behaving badly.

For the 53-year-old is one of the 40 pre-school teachers roped in by the National Library Board (NLB) to urge noisy children to pipe down and inculcate good library habits in them from young.

Unlike in the past when patrol teams policed the grounds and shushed the children, the NLB is now taking a different tack to make sure toddlers behave.

"Pre-school teachers have the techniques in handling the children, especially toddlers, and it is better to get the community involved in reminding their fellow users rather than policing people," said Ms Jasna Dhansukhlal, assistant director of library services and management at NLB.

Noise complaints have been the top bugbear of libraries here for decades, according to the NLB. Children contribute to the problem, especially during the school holidays when parents leave them in libraries to ruffle through the books while they work or run errands.

This school holiday month, daily visitorship numbers for its 25 libraries rose 10 per cent from the average of 79,000 people a day to about 87,000.

The pre-school teachers volunteer at the library from once to a few times a week. By year- end, the NLB hopes to recruit more than 200 teachers, to be deployed across all its libraries.

Madam Saberah, a teacher with NTUC My First Skool, has been volunteering at the Sengkang library since June 1.

When she spots a bawling kid who has left books strewn all over the floor or one who is racing around, she swoops in to help the parents manage the child.

She watches her body language when communicating with difficult children who climb on library furniture or talk on their mobile phones loudly.

"You don't take a stern stance and warn them to stop doing that but talk to them at eye level and explain to them gently," she said.

She also picks out books for distraught children who cry when their parents leave their sides.

Ms Joanne Low, 38, a teacher with Sengkang Methodist Children Centre, said offering incentives to children who fall out of line helps.

Last week, she encountered a three-year-old child who was exclaiming to his mother about some books. She went over to remind him to be conscious of others and offered him a sticker.

Minutes later, she saw him taking the initiative to prompt a much older boy seated next to him to lower his voice.

"I found it so rewarding to see little efforts like these paying off and children internalising the message that I gave him a bookmark to reinforce the behaviour," she said.

The bookmarks are among the materials designed by Straits Times artist Lee Chee Chew, 47, that use humour to influence social behaviour. They are part of NLB's I Love My Library campaign, which started last month.

Housewife Jewel Fong, 36, has been taking her 20-month-old daughter to the Sengkang library every week and has come up with rules for her. "Whenever I put my finger to my lips, she quietens down but after a while she forgets she is in the library," she said.

If her daughter acts up occasionally when she is tired or hungry, she would be taken outside to be calmed down. Mrs Fong said: "It's great to have teachers who are more hands-on here so that we parents can also pick up a skill or two from them."

jantai@sph.com.sg