Stacking the Shelves: The RI Library (OH2020 Print Edition)

Did you know that RI is one of the few schools in Singapore to have a professional librarian? 

And have you ever wondered how a book made its way from the dusty stockroom of a publisher to come to be on the shelves of the school library?

“You’d think: ‘A book is just a book’, right? However, there’s actually a lot of work that goes on behind getting a book ready,” says head librarian Mrs Joanna Chow, who oversees both the Shaw Foundation Library (SFL) and the Hullett Memorial Library (HML) over at Y1-4. 

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Mrs Joanna Chow, RI’s Head Librarian

Unlike other school libraries, which might only be able to put in a book order once every term or semester, the SFL processes orders on a daily basis, so students and teachers get the items they need as quickly as possible. 

Whenever a teacher puts in a request for an item, the librarians first have to check that the item is not already available in the library. After this basic step has been conducted, a dizzying list of questions then follows: Where’s the cheapest place to get it from? Is it out of print? Is there local stock? Overseas stock? How urgent is the request? 

Occasionally, there will be requests which call for a little more ingenuity and resourcefulness on the part of the head librarian. “For example, currently I have a request to buy this book about Zapin, which is a folk dance of the Malay world. But the book is actually already out of print.”

However, Mrs Chow isn’t going to let something as small as a title being out of print get in the way of her acquisitions—she manages to locate a copy of the book in Malaysia. To avoid paying for exorbitant postage costs, Mrs Chow calls upon her extensive personal connections to get someone who lives in Malaysia who comes to Singapore regularly to help her bring it out. 

“So things like that, we will try to go all out to help the teacher get the book because it’s part of the curriculum. I like to make sure I have exhausted all avenues before I tell the teacher, ‘I can’t do it.’”

Apart from her Singapore collection, there is another collection which is a personal point of pride for Mrs Chow: the exam papers compilations in a corner of the Quiet Study Area. For copyright reasons, the librarians are not able to put up the electronic versions of the other schools’ papers online. 

“Some people say, ‘It’s so old fashioned’, but it’s actually a lot of work for us. Sometimes when we receive the soft copy [from the other schools], there’s no cover page and we need to create a cover page. If you go and take one exam book, you will understand. We stamp every page number so that you know what page number Hwa Chong is, rather than have to flip every single page.”

To encourage RI students to read more, Mrs Chow shares that the library has resorted to some rather unconventional measures, such as putting up magazine articles from The Economist or TIMES on the board outside the toilet next to the library.

“Because when people are waiting for their friends at the toilet, they actually stand there and read! So it’s actually quite useful to have that. [Just one of] a lot of different aspects that we try [to] encourage people to read.”

Thanks to the hard work of the librarians, our library is well-equipped to support RI students. Do drop by! 

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