Of the Bookish Sort: Appreciation Week 2015

by Louisa Li (16A13A)
Photos by Nicholas Chang (16S03K)
Additional reporting by Karen Cuison (16A01D)

In the Shaw Foundation Library (SFL),  empty chairs are pushed in, books are classified exactly to the second Dewey Decimal, and a stream of high-quality books, magazines and audio-visual material is categorized as it comes in. Maintaining this pristine order across four floors is no small feat. A while back, Raffles Press caught up with our resident SFL librarians – Mrs Kumar, Ms Tan and Ms Tang – to find out how they do it.

A veteran who has been at RI since 2004,  Mrs Kumar is in charge of the circulation of books and magazines.

A veteran who has been at RI since 2004, Mrs Kumar is in charge of the circulation of books and magazines and has a secret passion for baking and cooking.

Ms Tan has been here for 6 years, and takes charge of finances, invoices and physical processing.

Ms Tan has been here for 6 years, and takes charge of finances, invoices and physical processing.

Ms Tang manages audio-visual materials, and has been with the SFL for two years.

Ms Tang manages audio-visual materials, and has been with the SFL for two years while juggling her job alongside her Business studies.

All three librarians share a love for books, and for reading. Ms Tan says that she “likes that the library is a quiet place”, while Ms Tang appreciates that working at a library gives her the opportunity to “see a lot of new books”. Moreover, they all have shared experiences of working in similar jobs: Mrs Kumar used to work in the banking line, then at the library of St Hilda’s Primary School; Ms Tan previously worked with the National Library Board, while Ms Tang worked at a bookshop. Mrs Kumar quipped, “Customer service is all the way, so over here y’all are my customers too!”

When asked what she enjoyed most about being a librarian, Mrs Kumar said that she loves working with students because they remind her of her own children. “You know how naughty they are, but if you talk to them nicely they’ll listen to you,” she shared. Our librarians also appreciate being appreciated. For Ms Tang, that includes “students [coming] back and [thanking] us after their two years here, for helping them.”

Most library users tap in, study quietly, and dutifully tap out, but according to the librarians, oddballs apparently abound. One student asked the librarians what a CPU was. Another particularly resourceful student once tried to carry a scanner out, and when asked why, she said that “the computer lab didn’t have a scanner”, to the librarians’ disbelief.

Jokes aside, the librarians then went on to talk about more serious issues. When asked about what irked them the most, Mrs Kumar and Ms Tan did not hesitate when they said it would have to be students eating in the library. Bits of food left in the library are essentially golden invites for pests to come along and ruin the books. It is no wonder then that the librarians have a strict policy of giving conduct slips to all who are found guilty of it. While RI students may ardently believe that the SFL undergoes mystic nightly cleansing undertaken by five-armed elves, Mrs Kumar tells us that there is in fact “only 1 cleaner for the whole library”. Therefore, students must be extra careful not to leave trash behind, and remember never to eat inside the library.

As you enter this air-conditioned refuge to buckle down and study for the looming Common Tests, remember that as much as it seems that way, this library does not run itself; behind the counter is a dedicated team of three librarians who work incredibly hard to meet the needs of the students. When students run in at the last minute to try to print things or to borrow a book, the librarians often restart their systems to allow for that one more person, because “[they] don’t have the heart to reject” us. Raffles Press would like to thank the librarians for entertaining our interview request and for being so liberal with their sharing. Perhaps next time we ask them for help, we could recognize them not just as “librarians”, but as fellow human beings who would very much appreciate a smile, or a simple ‘thank you’. :)

Appreciation Week is a collaboration between students from The Humanz Initiative (THI) and Raffles Press that aims to recognise and appreciate the non-teaching staff members who do a lot that we often don’t value enough. Through our article series featuring individuals or groups around the school, we hope more will be encouraged to show their appreciation for the perhaps less-noticed staff members around the school; though seemingly insignificant to some, they definitely make a significant impact on our school lives.

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