Better libraries, more readers
Loan rate at Commonwealth Secondary School library doubles after renovation
With themed book displays, cozy cubbyholes and an amphitheatre-like space, the library at Commonwealth Secondary School (CSS) looks like a mini version of library@orchard.
The idea is to "lure" students in and have them inadvertently learn something new while casually flipping through books - what Assistant Professor Loh Chin Ee calls "incidental learning".
The trick has worked. A year after the CSS library was renovated - a decision made by the school - the loan rate has doubled, the National Institute of Education (NIE) researcher in the English language and literature department told The New Paper.
The CSS library is one of the six libraries Prof Loh is studying on how secondary school libraries, typically under-used, can serve as a central node in cultivating a reading and learning culture in schools.
Preliminary findings, presented at NIE's Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference on May 31, show that less academically inclined students are less likely to have many books at home, and also less likely to use the public library.
"The common argument is that you can always go to the public library for more books, but if students don't know how to use the public library, they are intimidated and don't go (to one)," said Prof Loh.
For these students, their first library experience usually starts in school, she added, reiterating the importance of a well-designed school library. Her findings come against a backdrop of poor reading habits among Singaporeans.
The common argument is that you can always go to the public library for more books, but if students don't know how to use the public library, they are intimidated and don't go (to one).Assistant Professor Loh Chin Ee
A National Arts Council survey last year found that fewer than one in two Singaporeans read at least one "literary book" a year.
Improving reading proficiency could have a strong impact on life opportunities and thus become an effective way to effect social change, said Prof Loh.
Schools are allocated funds for their libraries and retain autonomy on what their libraries should look like.
As a result, some libraries look more like classrooms than a pleasant place to read. Others are found on the top floors of schools or in obscure corners.
Said Prof Loh: "Most of our libraries in secondary schools are stuck in the 1980s, 1990s...
"You have shelves of books but they are old. There are tables for studying and sitting at, but insufficient reading spaces."
In contrast, the titles at the CSS library are regularly refreshed, taking into account students' requests, recommendations from the National Library Board and suggestions fromteachers, said library coordinator Ng Yui Yun, who is also the school's head of the English and literature department.
The school has also taken a cue from the retail sector for its book displays - special care is taken to line the shelves with beautifully illustrated covers to attract the attention of young readers.
In the corner of the library, there is a spot with eight armchairs next to large windows. Soft music plays through a wireless speaker in the area.
Libraries that do not evolve from the traditional model are likely to become obsolete, said Prof Loh.
"If we stick with that traditional library, then people will not see any use for the library.
"If it is just a study space, you can just provide an air-conditioned room.
"If we understand that the key mission of the library is to be a knowledge hub, to teach students how to use the information through reading and learning, then yes, there is a space for it.
"In fact, it is more crucial that the library is a place that students can come to for that," she said.