I just hastily submitted a piece on my experience at NUS' Science Library - today is the last day for submissions; see The Celebrating Libraries Project.
Ladybug has a elemental story from her childhood that I hope she posts - she poured over books as a little kid, listened to stories and plastered a reading tree with "leaves" denoting books she read; even winning a prize for her enormous appetite. It was such a critical place for her as a child and her story would have been enough to redirect my efforts into libraries had governnment support not been so incredibly significant.
Most importantly, the Science LIbrary staff know how I feel; I emailed them at least twice since the mid-90's to acknowledge the libraries' role in my work and I indicate my appreciation clearly for efficiency and/or plesantness when staff help me on the ground.
NUS' Science Library - a living and learning space
First encounters and the charm of an old system
In 1986 when I was still in the army, my former-JC mates who were now NUS Science students proudly showed off the newly opened Science Library housed in a spanking new building that also held the zoological specimen collection from the Raffles Museum where I now work in. Little did I know that it would become a second home in the years ahead.
In that first tour, I ended up flipping though a book on astronomy in the reference section. My interest was probably piqued by my father who used to point the constellations out to me when I was a child. The book still contained the loan card that students used to sign against when they borrowed the book - a system no longer in use. It was still inserted in a sleeve at the back of the book. To my surprise, I found my father's characteristic signature - he had borrowed the very same book several decades ago when he was a student in the university!
Librarians characterise a library
When I became an undergraduate, the Science Library was a popular hangout - it was a warm and familiar place to go visit. Not just because it was new (then), had a comprehensive collection of books and journals that we needed for studies and interest or was a restful place to study, but also because the librarians there were friendly and helpful.
When the university branded short bermudas as improper attire sometime in the early 90’s, the Science Library urged us, instead, to “Dress Well and Look Good” and left us alone, instead of attempting to put up fierce messages denying entry to ill-attired students; we were impressed!
Students in the Biological Sciences Society were also happy that the Science librarians wore our t-shirts for many years to the inter-library games between the late 80’s - early 90's. They must have been observing all our student t-shirts and settled on the best looking ones!
During exams which we took once a year, the librarians allowed us a little more leeway than usual as they were sympathetic to the concentration of essay writing-exams we had to take, one after another. We certainly appreciated the understanding they demonstrated and the library was practically a second home. After graduation, we returned to take photos in our graduation gowns at the library - it was a living space for us during our university years and home to a lot of memories. That's the way to build connections!
The Science Library and nature conservation
In later years, I set to unraveling as much information as I could about otters in Asia in order to better understand conservation issues. The Science Library's journals, books and its holdings of the Raffles Collection and other old books in the Closed Stacks proved invaluable.
The phenomenal support in reprographing articles and the annually growing Science Citation Index and Zoological Records was invaluable. With additional searches in specialist libraries and bookstores in Malaysia, I was able to write an authoritative account on the status of otters of Malaysia and Singapore that dispelled many myths and helped conservation efforts even today.
So much so when I later worked at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, we participated in "Library Fest" in April 2002 and put up an exhibition in the Public Gallery to explain the role of libraries and old literature in nature conservation.
Helping to build a good collection
The Science Librarians always encouraged us to make specialist book recommendations in the areas we knew well - they said to just send in an email and to forget about the forms. I was glad to do so and was able to help build strong collections in certain topics and should continue to do.
Beyond the building
When NUS introduced the Digital Library, we were hooked. We were able to able to dig up technical articles in seconds, which used to take hours or even days.
For example, I have accessed the Science Citation Index from my laptop at home and in cafe in the U.S. - it no longer means waiting for the library to open, signing out the CDROMs, waiting for a terminal with a reader and downloading results to a floppy disk. Academic staff who left NUS would lament about the loss of access to the excellent resources of the NUS digital library. It is an invaluable tool that has accelerated research and study.
Recently, I dropped in to Central Library on the hunt of some history books. I was shocked at the change – it looks very comfortable! Study tables, comfortable chairs and sofas interspersed amongst the collection, bright colours, modern loan machines and an accessible and approachable librarians table. With students encouraged to spend more time in the library, exploration of the collections and learning will hopefully follow. And beneath this veneer of its modern look and feel remains enough signs of the old sombre and serious Central Library I recalled from the late 80's.
I was lucky that at the peak of my library usage in the late 80's and 90's, the Science Library was already very much a "living space" and one of the strong foundations that helped catapult me into the world of science.