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Centre for Management Practice

National Library Board: Building social capital


The National Library Board (NLB) was formed in 1995 as a statutory board under the Ministry of Information and the Arts to oversee matters related to the country's network of libraries. Public library services have since expanded to include 26 branches throughout Singapore.

However, with the advent of the Internet, the objectives of the library evolved from providing convenience and information accessibility to community outreach, building social capital, and facilitating knowledge sharing to retain the country's competitive edge in research and scholarship.

NLB's flagship – the National Library – resides in a much larger, more modern, yet environmentally sustainable building that showcases the library's role beyond a mere repository of books. It has become a safeguard of Singapore's heritage and culture. NLB’s CEO, Elaine Ng spoke on the goal to foster human interaction,

We want to be an inviting place for all. Many senior citizens come daily to read the papers and flip through magazines. Our staff interact with senior citizens who are regulars as they travel long distances to the library.

Getting out of the house helps them stay physically active while reading helps keep their mind sharp. As long as the library continues to remain an inviting place, we will continue to flourish as a community touchpoint.

NLB also took the lead in environmental sustainability by partnering with various organisations in conservation efforts. In May 2013, Ng unveiled the latest project, My Tree House, a green library for children developed in collaboration with City Developments Limited (CDL), a leading real estate developer, to guide the next generation of citizens.

My Tree House was designed to provide children with an understanding of conservation issues. The roof was covered by a leaf canopy made of recycled plastic bottles while a central pillar was a tree trunk made of aluminium, mild steel, biodegradable plywood, and recyclable fibre glass.

The bookshelves and carpeting also consisted of reprocessed materials. CDL played an indispensable part in its design and construction. According to Ng,

We have learnt a lot from them and they have added to our capability. It is a case of the sum being greater than the parts. That is the value of private public partnerships.

What NLB brings to the table is an opportunity for large companies such as CDL to connect with people. Sometimes when large corporate entities make decisions, there can be a perceived gulf between the interest of the entity and the man on the street.

Libraries still matter to the ordinary citizens. We provide that touchpoint for large organisations to show that they are good corporate citizens, and serve as a conduit between the two groups.

But perhaps more importantly, My Tree House spurred the imagination of children and generated excitement around learning. It became a family destination. Ng was proud that My Tree House had proved successful in bringing the community together. The project was also awarded the Green Mark Platinum Award by the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore.

Ng felt NLB’s partnership with CDL allowed them to reach a wider audience and achieve greater social impact. In an era of instantaneous communication and access to information – NLB had demonstrated that the library will remain an essential institution for generations to come.

1"My Tree House: A Green Library for Children," Climate Challenge,, accessed Jun 2014.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Centre for Management Practice

Centre for Management Practice

The Centre for Management Practice is a leading university think-tank at Singapore Management University. The Centre identifies, captures, and disseminates new knowledge based on emerging trends, best practices, and cutting-edge business models operating in Asia's fast-changing and dynamic markets. This is accomplished through academic consulting; as well as the development and publication of case studies, journal articles, and other periodical content.

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