Study Visit report

24TH – 27TH SEPTEMBER 2013
Name: Nadine Bailey
Student Number: 11510358                        Subject: INF407
You are required, as part of your subject assessment, to complete the attached Study Visit report. You need to submit the report within 7 days of the end of the study visit via EASTS as directed in your subject outline.
Please use ONLY the space provided. You have been given spaces to assist you to be concise and to analyse each visit and not merely describe the contents.
Your report will be read by the study visit leader, and will be assessed as Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. Your report will be returned within three weeks of the due date of your report. If your Report is unsatisfactory, you will be asked to complete a second Report.
Reflection Guidelines
This Reflection section should be a concise summation of your reflections on the visits made during your study visit. For each visit, in the space allocated, you should comment on the value of the visit to you i.e. what you learned from the visit and how this added to your knowledge of libraries in general or of this particular type of library. This should be written in a narrative style. You can write in first person and you are not required to provide references.
Evaluation Guidelines
Please write some notes on each visit you made during the study visit, indicating what you thought the strengths of the visit were and highlighting any weaknesses. Also, please rate the facility from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest rating. This evaluation will be used by staff to judge the value of each visit and whether that library should be visited again in future study visits. Your notes can be presented in point form.

Monday: Tanglin Trust School
The libraries are extremely well resourced both in personnel and in materials.  It clearly shows the advantages when the head of the library is seen as a partner in information and knowledge rather than just someone who manages online and offline resources. What struck me most was when the head librarian mentioned that she’d been consulted on the design and layout of the library prior to construction and also that she counted (in power terms) as a head of faculty and was present in all meetings and part of the school’s decision making process. This explains a lot why and how the library came to be so well resourced, staffed and laid out.
In the senior library It was interesting to see how the library constructed and managed the balance between interactive (busy / noisy) and reflective (study / quiet) zones.  The virtual space ( was equally well resourced.  The primary and infant libraries were very welcoming spaces where one can assume children will feel at home and foster an early appreciation and love for reading.
Evaluation                                                                                                                              Rating 5_/5
A very interesting visit.  In our course we have had quite a few forum discussions on the potential of libraries and library officers that often end with what appears to be bureaucratic issues and powerless non-networked library personnel.  This is an excellent example how someone who is not only extremely competent in what she does can succeed in “her” world in the library space but can also be seen as a powerful member of the decision making and resource allocating team.   I would be interested to see if this translates into better results academically for the school.
Monday:       Ngee Ann Polytechnic – Lien Ying Chow Library
Once again Ngee Ann Polytechnic showed how a competent library team paired with abundant resources and a supportive principal can result in a very welcoming and well functioning space.  Research has often indicated that students in the vocational sector may be reluctant users of libraries.  Their choice in making the entry area the  “lifestyle” part of the library with an integrated café / bookstore concept and plenty of interactive opportunities (TV / interactive table / game zone / Exhibition space) seems to have translated in good visitation and loan statistics. 
The library team seemed justifiably proud of the many “firsts” they had booked.   I was struck by the enthusiasm of the staff, and was also impressed by the number of staff training days (12 x 5 day training per year).
Good thought has gone into integrating Information Literacy into the curriculum with a combination of library and lecturer involvement.   I liked the fact that it involved not only classroom learning but also experiential learning such as the knowledge hunt activity, some online learning and mobile learning.
Evaluation                                                                                                                Rating 5/5
Enthusiastic staff is contagious!  If as visitors we had a good feeling about the library I’m sure that also translates to how students feel about their library.  Well worth a visit, given the debates in the library world about the café / bookstore concept versus the academic library sec.

Monday: Singapore Polytechnic Library
The library had been extensively renovated in parts and it was clear that considerable thought had gone into the design aspects within the library and it was really nice to see how the various schools had contributed to the hardware and software of the library.  The elephant in the room is their physical location; the library suffers from being an early structure in an old and expanding institution.  One has to wonder what the status is of the library and the librarians on campus. The campus is also undergoing considerable renovation – but the whole concept of what a library is and where it should be has not been challenged.  Definitely a contrast with Ngee Ann and Tanglin.
This has implications for its footfall and the emphasis that needs to be put on promoting the library.  It is making use of mobile technology (BYOM sessions) which makes sense given the physical constraints the library faces. In my opinion the library could be far more radical in its outreach with satellite library and satellite librarians and self-checkout or mobile checkout. 
Evaluation                                                                                                                    Rating 3/5
The way in which the library was making extensive use of its students abilities and knowledge, was good.
Tuesday: Singapore Management University
I was interested to hear they had a “compulsory” but non-credit bearing orientation, as the tour leader explained this was definitely a cultural aspect of Singaporean students being compliant and not questioning the enforcement of a policy.
While quite a few of the other libraries were using social media as a promotion / academic information platform, SMU libraries used Facebook, 4square and twitter purely for social interaction with students. This is an interesting choice and I assume requires some discipline not to “interfere” by including academic or promotional information.
Despite SMU and its library being relatively new they had encountered problems with physical preservation related to the Singapore climate, something that was a theme again later in the trip at the Institute of South East Asian Studies.   Mould is contagious to other books and materials and also creates health and safety problems. 
Elimination of mould is costly, and the “obvious” answer of digitisation of those parts of the collection have copyright and ownership issues. I had to consider that some problems don’t have a simple in-house solution that is cost-effective.
Evaluation                                                                                                                  Rating 2/5
While SMU definitely gets the prize for the best roof top view of “old” Singapore I’m not sure the visit had much added value to the tour. Although they did teach me how to use Google scholar with links to CSU library which was really valuable.

Tuesday:    National Library Board – Reference & Public Library
As the NLB is a government run organisation I was struck by just how innovative and artistic they were in their displays and particularly the design and conception of the children’s library as a “green” space.   It appears that the government places a lot of emphasis on the availability and accessibility of books to the population by the employment of the hub and spoke method – with 3 large regional libraries and 25 local libraries, some of which (10) are located in shopping centres (following their opening hours).
The reference section was very impressive but also very imposing, as was the exhibition space. As a Singaporean resident I had actually never ventured up to this part of the library which made me think about the role of a library in inviting people into its sanctuary.  Large spaces with high ceilings are aesthetically striking, but studies in airport design for example have shown that people feel less comfortable in them – this is used deliberately in airports, but one would assume that libraries would want the opposite.  The children’s library is a contrast with its cocooning space with low and lowered ceilings.
Evaluation                                                                                                                Rating 4/5
Interesting library, very enthusiastic staff. Nice to see how a government can be behind information and learning and put its money where its mouth is.
Tuesday: National Library Board – Chinatown Library
We had an interesting discussion on how there never were enough newspapers for the senior citizens visiting the library.  It led me to wonder about how a society goes about meeting the information needs of its elderly.  I have noticed in Hong Kong queues of 100s of pensioners in the early morning in order to get one of the free daily newspapers.   Here one has a physically beautiful library which is well resourced with a special collection and the issue is newspapers which don’t even cost that much.  There is a philosophical question behind this that seems to be a silver thread through libraries throughout the ages which is whether one gives patrons what they want, what they can’t access or afford themselves or what you think they should have.  The UWCSEA visit later in the week added the dimension of giving them what you feel embodies your identity and purpose.  
Evaluation                                                                                                                    Rating 4/5
Of course the fact it’s a volunteer run library is noteworthy as are the logistics involved. It was nice to see one of the shopping mall libraries and also a special collection and how that was managed.

Wednesday:    Temasek Polytechnic
According to the library about 70% of students use the library and they monitor unique visitors through a patron tracking system, I’d not heard of this before and I thought it a worthwhile exercise in order to make choices both on the promotion side i.e. do you want this number to be bigger, or is it appropriate, and also to ensure there is congruence between the users and the collection.
I liked the fact they used Pinterest for book displays and was generally impressed by their (student designed) signage and interactive booth.  It was clear they didn’t have the level of budget of the other polytechnics, but were doing a good job with what they had.
Evaluation                                                                                                                    Rating 2/5
The added value was as a contrast /foil to the other 2 polytechnics that had been renovated more recently and were better (and privately topped up) resourced. I’d rather have spent more time at UWCSEA or the library supply centre.
Wednesday: United World College of SE Asia – EAST
The presentation focused on the philosophy of library / spatial design and building community identity through a collection. 
Since the library was purpose built for a new campus of a school with an existing ideology and value system, the librarian could incorporate both the latest thinking about library design and have a chance to build a collection from scratch.  This was a unique opportunity to see how such thinking translated to very practical aspects such as having classes of 22 pupils throughout the school resulted in tables, rooms and chairs seating exactly 22 people right down to applying the theories of Thornburg on learning spaces to the physical space.
As far as collection development was concerned, the school mission, educational goals and multi-cultural diverse community were used in guiding the acquisition of materials and the consideration of their format in a very idealistic way with careful consideration particularly to the concepts of culture.  I found it made me think a lot about how identity of an organisation is expressed – in contrast – the Tanglin Trust Schools very clearly identify themselves as “the British” school in Singapore.
Evaluation                                                                                                                     Rating 5/5
Would have liked to spend more time at UWCSEA for more esoteric and philosophical discussion.

Wednesday:   National Library Board Supply Centre
The informative talk raised a number of ideas and discussion of the current trends around the way in which material is catalogued, tagged and linked to other information.  The contrast between the “think tank” nature of the office doing the acquisition and describing and the back-end “industrial machine” of the physical processing, distribution and storage system was fascinating. 
Evaluation                                                                                                                    Rating 3/5
Visit was a little rushed.
Wednesday: Singapore Press Holdings
SPH had a couple of aspects that differed from other libraries, including the need to be open and available for longer hours, participation in the editorial meetings, a very proactive approach to the information needs of their ‘clients’ and the merging of the English and Chinese libraries.
I personally have difficulty in tagging, storing and finding material in my limited family video footage, so I could identify with the issues of Razor TV where they add 40 terabytes of footage every 3 weeks and need to cut around 70% of it and tag and store the rest using a new content management system.  I felt there was a little bit of disjoint between the questions I had on information retrieval – particularly from the visual and audio-visual side and the presentation which was more focussed on traditional print and picture media.
Evaluation                                                                                                                                 Rating 4/5
Interesting to see a corporate library after the other academic /public libraries.

Thursday:  Nanyang Technological University – Lee Wee Nam Library
I was surprised at the library response to the topic / question of Open Access, it appears to be an area that none of the libraries are prepared to take a strong stand on, either morally or conceptually – I’m not sure who drives the debate in Singapore, the academic institution, its libraries or the central government. 
It is interesting they had a special promotion / outreach program and I was impressed by their personalisation of approach to the students and the good response it received. Each library we visited seems to have spent a lot of time and effort into ensuring that the libraries are accessible and welcoming to the students.  They also made it very clear that their focus was on the students and not faculty, something I’ve not heard verbalised so strongly in other university libraries.
In terms of reference librarians there was a strong presence of subject specialists, which I can imagine is well received by students particularly the technical areas. Since I’m doing INF406 Information Sources and Services I found learning about the ways in which they were creating subject guides by the subject librarians, the assistance with metadata, taxonomy and website and blog design very worthwhile.
Evaluation                                                                                                                    Rating 3/5
It was good to include a university academic rather than vocational library. I’d include it over Temasek for a more balanced visit.

Thursday:  Institute of South East Asian Studies
One has to question the continued existence of this type of niche library that appears to duplicate the collection of other institutions and struggle both with preservation of its materials and its own identity.  It will take a very strong and politically and academically connected individual to make something of the potential of this library. Browsing the shelves one could see that a huge weeding exercise would have to be undertaken – for example having the encyclopaedia Britannica and various yearbooks is very questionable for such a specialised collection on a very limited budget.
Evaluation                                                                                                                    Rating 3/5
Interesting from the preservation – physical collection and existence – aspect.
Summary Reflection (What you learned overall)
I wish I had done this tour before I started my course as I learnt so much.  On the other hand, having completed a couple of courses, it made all the subjects I’ve been doing in abstract fall into place and make me even more enthusiastic about my career change.
The most interesting “take away” for me was the idea of organisation identity and philosophy and how that translates into collection development, space design and the staffing of the library.  While most of the libraries had many things in common – quiet spaces, communal space, collections of print and digital material, it is fascinating how each differentiated themselves and carved a niche in the organisation of which they were part, and collectively as a part of the Singaporean society as a whole.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.