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Singapore & Malaysia

Greetings colleagues,

October is now concluded, and with it my country visits to Singapore and Malaysia.

I combined these two neighboring countries for the month of October because of Singapore’s small size — just four universities — and some common heritage between the two (Singapore was even part of Malaysia, briefly, at one point). Here are some of my observations of the library environment in each.


Singapore, as a small island-nation, is modern, highly developed and highly educated. With ample tax revenue from commerce and per capita incomes, the government invests heavily in its educational institutions and libraries. Case in point: the public library network throughout the island is unparalleled compared to other neighboring countries. Singapore citizens have modern, well-stocked and automated public library branches, quite similar to Orange County Public Library’s many branches throughout the county. Singapore’s new National Library building is a breathtaking addition to its public library network (see the architecture at: http://www.ntu.edu.sg/cee/iccpm/site_visit.htm).

Regarding academic libraries, Singapore has four universities with all the same modern library automation, facilities and services you would find in UC or CSU libraries. There also are “Polytechnics,” which are equivalent to our community colleges, and these have been funded by the government to modernize their facilities.

This government commitment to education is clearly impressive. But of course, there are always areas where improvements can be made. One is school libraries. Surprisingly, elementary/secondary school libraries are few, minimal and most often just run by a teacher part-time. This is an irony. With Singapore’s impressive investment in public and academic libraries, it apparently didn’t include school libraries ... and that’s really where the foundations of information literacy skills begin. I met with officials of the national library (overseeing public libraries) and there is some user education that exists at the public library level. But it is more leisure/continuing education-oriented, not tied to student academics. Thus, when Singaporean students arrive at polytechnics or universities — even with high marks and analytic/computational skills — they may often lack information literacy skills (those defined by the Association of College & Research Libraries — the ability to find information, critically evaluate it, etc.)


Malaysia, like Singapore, is investing heavily in education. From the mid-1990s onward, there has been a major drive to upgrade colleges/institutes into full universities and modernize them with high-technology. In fact, just south of Kuala Lumpur is an area specifically created as a high—tech Silicon Valley equivalent, called the Multimedia Corridor. However, Malaysia has more of a challenge than Singapore — it has a much larger population and more diverse economic levels.

Malaysia’s top universities have funding for many of the same resources we are used to, e.g., databases like EBSCO, ProQuest, Emerald, etc. Commercial OPAC systems (Innovative, Virtua, Geac, etc.) also abound — in contrast to in-house systems found in Indonesia.

From my visits, I observed that library user education varies significantly from university to university. At one university, library user education was built right into the curriculum, where all entering freshmen take a mandatory course of library/information literacy training (bravo!). But at another university, there was essentially no user education — just a brief new student orientation tour. The university’s (i.e., administration’s) valuation of library/information literacy seems to be one factor, and the library director’s vision/commitment another, on the degree of user education.

Obviously, these brief summaries of my Singapore/Malaysia visits are only snapshots. There is so much more to each of their library environments — that’s where compiling data into my laptop comes into play!

I hope October was well for you all, and I’ll be back in touch again at the end of November with my next country report.

Regards from the field,