Work placement at the National Library Board in Singapore

As William mentioned in his post, this year we had quite a range of destinations for our work placements. Mine would have probably been the farthest one since our tutor David started working at the college a couple of decades ago: I went to Singapore. I chose the country because Singapore is the most probable place for me to end up being after I graduate from the West Dean College. But, my experience at the National Library Board became much more than just cultivating a future job market.

Singapore is a very small country on the tip of Malay peninsula. Its history as the current political state is still relatively short: it became the Republic of Singapore after WWII. Although it is small, once you land on the country, you can tell that the country is growing fast. And, the development is not only in terms of economy, but also the government has been putting more and more effort on cultural matters. Conservation is one of such fields that has been developed in the last few years.

There are three national organizations that have conservation facilities: the Heritage Conservation Centre, the National Archives of Singapore and the National Library Board. Considering the size of the country, I think three is a lot. There are a few private conservators, too.

The National Library Board (NLB) has 23 branch lending libraries in Singapore. It is a deposit library, so all the books and periodicals published in Singapore are collected there. Everyday, about 5,000 volumes are delivered to the Library Supply Centre of the NLB, and the volumes are given barcodes, covered, labeled, registered in the catalogue and delivered to the branch libraries.

The Preservation and Conservation Workshop is situated in this Library Supply Centre. The workshop works mainly for the library's rare and valuable books. There, rare books means books published before 1945; books published after this year are categorized as valuable books. The lady, who is managing the workshop and was my supervisor, studied paper conservation in the UK and soon after she came back to Singapore, she opened this workshop. It was only a few years ago. Now she has five colleagues working as conservators who have been trained by her.

Compare to the amount of resource that we students in conservation at West Dean can access through the college, the human and material resources they can access in Singapore is very limited, I have to say. My supervisor told me that there is not so many opportunities for her to meet up with other conservators in the country and overseas to exchange ideas and knowledge. In terms of material, for example, they don't have any skin material or textile to repair damaged books. Most of the repair works rely on their collection of Japanese and Chinese papers. To be perfectly honest, I had a slight difficulty when I needed to sew a book that I was treating at that time, because there was no sewing frame to keep tension on the sewing supports.

But the point here is that they make the most of what they've got in the workshop and they are saving so many documents and books every day. They were very open minded and chill about listening to ideas and opinions of mine, though I'm a much younger student. Once she found that I can do the Coptic binding, my supervisor arranged an opportunity for me to teach the binding to them. In addition to developing practical conservation skills, I could gain chances to learn how I deliver what I've learned so far, which I didn't expect to have but was truly a great experience.

After 7 weeks, I came back to West Dean with a good network with people and more ideas for my future job possibilities.

Oh, and you cannot forget about the food culture in Singapore. Thanks to the varieties of people living in the country, their food is awesome. I had seriously delicious, varieties of dishes for 3 meals, 7 days a week.