Singapore’s Tampines Library mixes the best of a traditional book repository with robots, apps and even hands-on prototype modelling
The library is not just a place for reading books. It also for learning and experiencing different types of learning – and that’s why Singapore’s Tampines Regional Library reopened in August 2017 with a new concept and redesigned to facilitate and encourage users to interact with the library itself.
Recently, Asean journalists visited the Tampines Regional Library to see how to implement a new-era library and to apply Singapore's national approach of helping lead an inclusive and informed digital Asean.
The library has five floors, very long floors the length of a football field, and is part of Tampines Hub, the first of its kind in Singapore. It is the integrated services hub for the island nation’s citizen, providing different facilities for residents, as well as providing a hub for government agency offices. In addition to the library, there are also a swimming pool, local football club, community centre, food centre and supermarket.
Tampines Regional Library serves about 3,500 people on weekdays, and double that on weekends. It is one of 26 national libraries in Singapore, serving as a regional library for the largest region, the east. There are three regional library in Singapore, each boasting 10,900 square metres.
Lynn Koh, the manager of Tampines Regional Library, said the facility works under the concept of “Don’t read the same things! Please try different books”. Tampines offers 400,000 books, 347 magazine titles, and 16,800 audio-visual items to induce people to spend time discovering something new. A lifelong library membership is free for Singapore citizens, while foreigner pay an annual membership fee of 42.80 Singapore dollars.
As the entry floor has heavy foot traffic, Level 2 hosts a more general collection, along with transaction kiosks, and book check-out stations. Many transaction kiosks in the library are self-service, with the library encouraging users to find things themselves as well as check them out. In fact, users can largely bypass traditional library desks by using a mobile app to make payments, register for membership, borrow items, and search for and register in programmes.
A digital directory is located on every floor. It gives users a map of the whole library, making it easy to find what they’re seeking. They can search different levels and also search for the best route to the book or programme they seek. The kiosk also allows users to download a map to their mobile phone. Because the library is so big, it hopes to facilitate self-navigation.
It offers some 24-hour services in a round-the-clock lobby and an outside book-drop that takes books borrowed from any of the system’s libraries. And “reservation lockers” to put a hold on items has enabled users to pick up the item at any time – even when the library is closed.
Tampines Regional Library is the first of its kind to implement a “bookdrop robot”, a bookdrop machine embedded with electromagnetic radio frequency identification (RFID).
Users can return books through the machine. Once it is full, the robot will automatically “walk”, following a magnetic strip on the floor embedded with QR Code, as it travels to return books to the main sorting area. When it arrives in the sorting area, it will send a signal to the sorting room to alert staff to replace the bin.
Librarians can also detect where the robot is along its route. At the book-sorting area, library staff will put the books into an “auto-sorter” machine that arranges the books for return to their proper shelves. The auto-sorter is a computerised system that mechanically sorts returned items into specific categories for easy shelving by staff and service partners. The machine uses data analytics to identify popular titles for staff to place on the “Just Returned'” shelves.
This is the first and only Singapore library to boast a “bookdrop” robot, which was just added in December 2017. It plans to roll out more in the other libraries.
Dedicated design for all
Koh noted that the Tampines Regional Library is designed to serve all people with an inclusive community space. The library is laid out so that Level 2 is has the more general collections including magazines and cookbooks, Level 3 serves young children, Level 4 is for older children and teenagers, Level 5 is for adult collections including non-fiction books, while Level 6 features quiet reading areas.
Shelves on Level 3, display books with their cover facing out to better attract children and make it easier for them to flip through and pick up the books they like. It also includes books for parents to read to babies aged zero to three years old.
It also offers four Tumble Book e-book reading stations, where a machine reads the book to children.
“One of objective of the library is to make it an attractive place for Singaporeans and library users to come to visit,” said Koh.
Anybody, including tourists, are welcome to visit and use the library, including finding a book and reading it there without charge – until, they want to borrow the book, at which point people apply for a library membership and pay the annual fee.
“It also offers an outdoor reading garden for teenagers who want to hang out and make a bit more noise rather than keeping quiet all the time,” said Koh.
The library also engages its users with social media, using hashtag #librarysgteens to showcase recommended books for teens. Teens can post their own content on Instagram or Twitter with hashtag #librarysgteens to engage with the library and their friends. They can post their activities in the library, respond to questions posed by the library, post what they are reading and so on.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Tampines also boasts a Culinary Studio, a cooking studio in the library managed by the People's Association (PA). It is the first time that the library system has integrated its cookery collection with PA’s Culinary Studio. In addition to holding cooking classes, NLB supplements the space with a digital display of recommended reads and videos to facilitate learning.
Creative Space: Pixel Labs
Tampines Regional Library also offers users the Pixel Labs “Making Space”, a collaboration between National Library Board (NLB) and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).
It provides users with the equipment to create prototypes of new things. Pixel Labs aims to inspire people to “do” rather than just to “see”, participating in the act of creation and moving beyond the traditional library approach of consuming information. It is a chance to apply information to a problem, to test out a prototype or work on a hobby or area of interest..
Users will find a dedicated space with tools and supplies that enable individuals to learn, create, invent, network and share skills and knowledge. Tools and equipment such as 3D printers and microcontrollers enable onsite tinkering in the library.
Programmes are jointly arranged by NLB and IMDA for general library users, covering both tech and non-tech areas, including hands-on workshop for students and families; programmes for young children, adults and seniors, and also tech-related talks for the public and crafting sessions for makers.