The Reading Room

Elaine Ng, CEO of the National Library Board, considers the evolving role of the library, and the relationship we share with the printed page today.

Interview by Charlene Chan & Jolene Hee
Photography by Jovian Lim

Many of us fondly remember the childhood adventure of the library trip. Dashing through the sensors, tiptoeing past readers nestled in comfy chairs, then—finally—plunging into the exhilarating expanse of shelves. And rightfully so, says Elaine: “There must be that feeling of “I want to run to the shelves.” We pay a lot of attention to aesthetics, because when you walk into a library you should feel inspired to go look for books.”

Recalling her childhood experiences with reading, Elaine shares that “[they] give you that window into possibilities—you enter worlds that you’ve not seen, you meet people that you’ve never met, and you find out about ideas you’ve never imagined.” Our library experiences today no longer mirror those of yesteryear, thanks to digital advances and evolving reading habits. But neither has the format of a library remained the same. These days, a visit to the National Library can mean a visit to the drama theatre; a trip to library@orchard presents a photo opportunity.

Technology has made many human touchpoints within the library obsolete. Do you try to maintain an element of human interaction throughout the visitor experience?

Borrowing books, renewing—these transactions that previously needed people, you can now do yourself, even without going to the library. That’s part of our library design today—we empower our users to be able to do things when they want to. It’s developed in sync with people’s lifestyles today.

Where we have been growing our interactions with people, however, is in our development of programmes that answer people’s needs. We introduce different segments for each group: immersive storytelling for children, and coding classes for teens and adults. With seniors, we’re helping to on-board them onto e-newspapers.

Read more in the Design Dialogue Document here