:: Dialogue with a Librarian Series ::

Photo of Mrs Lee Cheng Ean at the launch of BookBridge

Launch of BookBridge (left): Associate Professor Shinya Okuda from the Department of Architecture at the NUS College of Design and Engineering (CDE); Head of the Department of Architecture at CDE Professor Ho Puay Peng; Mrs Lee Cheng Ean; and CDE’s Professor Lam Khee Poh. Picture Credit: NUS

An Interview with Mrs Lee Cheng Ean, Immediate Past University Librarian of the National University of Singapore Libraries

To create physical and virtual spaces for discovery, teaching, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation”

Established as a modest medical school in 1905, the National University of Singapore (NUS) is one of the top universities in Asia today. As the institution evolved through the years, its libraries are constantly transforming to keep pace with its patrons’ needs, as well as technological and educational reforms. In this Dialogue with a Librarian Series, we are privileged to feature Mrs Lee Cheng Ean, Immediate Past University Librarian from NUS, to share the recent transformation of library spaces in NUS.

After a 40-month-long renovation in four phases, the Central Library was finally declared reopened on 3 December 2021. The expanded library is now home to state-of-the-art facilities and novel technologies that offer exciting possibilities in research and learning.

Central Library at NUS. (Photo: National University of Singapore)

How was the Library Space Developed?

In our interview, Mrs Lee shared that the new library was designed based on a set of principles which the team developed, which includes:

  • Smart building design for environmental sustainability
  • Consolidation of collections for better environmental control
  • Use of natural lighting
  • Flexible and adaptive spaces to facilitate maximum use of space
  • Mobile furniture to allow patrons to customise their space
  • Collaborative and discussion areas equipped with TV monitors, projectors, writable surfaces, and whiteboards.

More than just a place for books, it is to “create physical and virtual spaces for discovery, teaching, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation.”

Mrs Lee emphasises the importance of “Patron Centricity,” keeping patrons in mind to ensure that libraries stay relevant.  “Changes to learning and teaching models, changes in student behaviour and expectations, rapid technological developments, the digital revolution and increasingly complex information environments have been driving educational reforms in NUS to equip our students to be ready for the future,” she explains. And so, libraries need to keep pace with these changes, embrace them, and be the change themselves.

The role of the library is to “provide immediate access to information sources, facilities and services that will support interdisciplinary learning, teaching and research.” This renovation has allowed the team to meet the needs of diverse groups of patrons by modernising the library and reimagining spaces.

Mrs Lee expressed, “We are thankful to the university for supporting the transformation of 2 libraries, namely, Central Library and the Hon Sui Sen Memorial Library, as well as to repurpose another building for the combined Medicine+Science Library.”

The 360imx is a 6m wide, 2.4m high cylinder fitted with 6 WUXGA 5,100-lumen projectors and surround sound speakers. (Photo: National University of Singapore)

What is the Importance and Significance of Digital Technologies in the Library Space?

The use of digital technologies is becoming more prevalent. The university is advancing “blended learning 2.0”, so the libraries must equip themselves to support this new form of learning. 

Tech Central sits within the fourth level of the Central Library. It is a “tech-enriched playground” that supports research, experiential learning and knowledge creation. Faculty, students and researchers are encouraged to explore and develop programs here, with the host of digital technologies and tools:

  • 360imx: The first 360° immersive visualisation suite in a Singapore academic institution.
  • TEL Imaginarium: Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) with devices such as Hololens, 4D VR, etc.
  • Digital Scholarship Lab: Workstations for data visualisations and rooms for collaboration.
  • Recording Studio: Fully equipped for high-quality, professional video recordings.
  • Lightboard Recording Room: Lightboard to better engage viewers in recordings.

Library staff are also reforming their roles as they gain new competencies and skill sets in digital technologies. They learn new technologies, conduct workshops and create games to promote creative learning and the use of such devices.

The BookBridge’s three-layer composite shelves. (Photo: National University of Singapore)

About BookBridge – Preservation and Importance of Rare Books to NUS

Within the transformed library space is BookBridge, a new space for the library’s collection of rare books that need to be stored in a controlled environment.

It was designed and built in partnership with Professor Shinya Okuda from the NUS Department of Architecture. “BookBridge is more than a showcase of rare books; it symbolises bridging knowledge for a sustainable future,” Mrs Lee said.

On the preservation and importance of rare books, Mrs Lee explains, “Rare books in the Special and Distinctive collection are preserved, while we unlock them through digitisation making them open access. Rare items with historical and research value, particularly those about Southeast Asia, are carefully curated for digitisation.” Gone are the days when researchers need to make in-person visits to the library. Now, they can access digitised rare books on NUS’ Digital Gems from anywhere in the world with just a few clicks on their devices.

Supporting Inclusive Practices in the Library

Inclusive practices in the library include providing facilities and services for diverse needs. Such as having quiet spaces for individual work, collaborative spaces for group work, facilities suited for physically challenged individuals and collections to support financially challenged students. “Where possible, NUS Libraries try to meet these needs,” Mrs Lee shares.

The Library is an Integral Part of the University

NUS started as a medical school with 23 students in 1905. It was founded by Mr Tan Jiak Kim and a group of businessmen to serve the local community’s needs. “NUS was founded by the community for the community”, and for more than 100 years today, NUS continues to be Singapore’s flagship university.

The library is an integral part of the university. It was established at the same time the university started to take shape. Mrs Lee adds, “We are proud of our heritage… we are proud that we are playing an important role in education and the community through our collections and services.”

About Mrs Lee Cheng Ean

Mrs Lee Cheng Ean is the Immediate Past University Librarian of the National University of Singapore Libraries. Starting her career as a Trainee Librarian, Mrs Lee Cheng Ean went on to obtain a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Loughborough University, UK. In her vast experience, she held leadership positions such as Heads of Serials, Technical Services and Deputy University Librarian and University Librarian. She is passionate aboutbuilding strong teams and brands, and is capable of transforming services and spaces, as seen from the successful rejuvenation of the 3 NUS libraries.

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