By the end of 2018, Bukit Merah Public Library, currently located in Bukit Merah, would have moved to VivoCity.
This follows the trend of public libraries moving to accessible locations with high footfall, such as malls and neighbourhood town hubs.
For instance, Tampines Regional Library, which closed on June 4, will reopen at Our Tampines Hub on Aug 5 and Yishun Public Library will reopen at Northpoint City by the first quarter of next year.
In a bid to attract new readers, libraries are co-locating with other public facilities to capitalise on greater human traffic in shopping malls.
When Bukit Merah Public Library was built 35 years ago, Bukit Merah Centre was bustling with residents and office workers. Now, it has become a quiet street, save for grocery shoppers and elderly people taking a walk.
With urban development and land-use efficiency, it appears logical to relocate the library to a busier area.
At the new location, however, the library is likely to lose its main groups of visitors — students and the elderly.
Ironically, the massive shopping mall may not be accessible for the elderly and students. In comparison, VivoCity is further away from residential housing and schools.
Gan Eng Seng Secondary School, Bukit Merah Secondary School and Henderson Secondary School are among the cluster of schools that are situated less than 1.5km away from the library’s currrent location in Bukit Merah.
It is no surprise that the students head over to the library after school and during study breaks to catch up on revision in a cool environment.
This conducive setting may not be replicated in VivoCity, where the library is expected to be crowded due to the mall’s high visitorship. Students may not be able to find empty desks or benches to use.
Furthermore, the mega-mall, which houses a cinema and an arcade, could serve as a distraction for students.
On the lines of VivoCity’s high visitorship, a couple of people have pointed out in The Straits Times forum that parents who want to take their children to the library would be inconvenienced by the shortage of parking space.
The library’s current location in Bukit Merah is most ideal for students — it is conducive, distraction-free and located in their neck of the woods.
When I learnt about the relocation, the demographic that first came into mind was the elderly — their daily newspaper reading habits are most likely to be affected by the shift.
At 9.50 a.m. each day, about a dozen elderly retirees will gather behind the library entrance, patiently waiting for the doors to open.
At the 10 a.m. opening time, many would rush to the newspaper section, while the rest would head to the second floor, grab non-fiction books and sit at the desks and sofas to read for hours.
Since library users above 50 are entitled to an hour of free internet use each day, the multimedia section will almost be fully occupied with elderly users by noon.
The elderly spend many hours in the library, stopping for lunch at nearby coffeeshops.
The relocation can be considered a disruption to the elderly’s reading habits. We would not want their reading time to be replaced with napping throughout the day, drinking or playing mahjong.
Since Bukit Merah Library is surrounded by residential housing, the elderly who frequent the library probably live a walking distance away. Not all elderly people enjoy visiting shopping malls and it may be time-consuming for them to travel to VivoCity.
To ensure that residents in Bukit Merah Central continue to have access to reading materials and multimedia services, the National Library Board (NLB) is planning to set up reading corners at various community clubs, senior activity centres and schools.
Books, computers, newspapers and magazines will be made available at the reading corners.
But these ‘mini libraries’ cannot be a perfect substitute for the library, since the spaces would be smaller with a limited number of reading materials and computers.
In addition, the reading corners may not be as spacious and comfortable as the library environment the elderly are used to.
To ensure that the communal areas are well used by the elderly, NLB and community partners might want to customise the elderly’s reading preferences.
For instance, librarians or community volunteers could identify the elderly’s general reading preferences through a short survey or by chatting with them.
If most of the elderly users read Chinese novels, self-help books and newspapers, these materials should be made available at the various reading corners.
If reading corners can only make space for a couple of desktops, a few laptops or iPads can be stored and distributed when the demand for computers are high.
Bukit Merah Public Library may be shifting, but the elderly’s reading habits must not shift.
When revising at home becomes too mundane, I would make a trip to the library and sit at one of the desks lined against the walls to study. During the holidays, the same routine would follow, but with a good novel instead of a Ten Year Series.
The blue building at Bukit Merah Central will be missed.
If you have memories of Bukit Merah Public Library, do share them in the comments below.
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