I was still thinking what to write about the moving on of the library@orchard when I went down today to get some photos. The library solved the problem for me. The library was hosting an exhibition by the Vegetarian Society Singapore on, you guess it, being a vegetarian. I have always assumed that being a vegetarian was a religious decision, like the kind made by a Buddhist. Today, I learned that being a meat eater had a wide range of implications. From the exhibition, I learned about the cruel treatment of animals reared to provide food for us, the impact on the environment (i.e. the contribution to global warming and extinction of species) the demand of meat has caused and the health effects of a diet that has meat.
The interesting thing about what I learned was that this information is easily available on the Internet. If you go to Google and know the right keywords to use for your search queries, the information would be available. The key of course was that you had to be even aware of the issues pertaining to meat eating and being a vegetarian.
And that is why I feel we are going to miss the library@orchard.
Along the lines of what Jillian, a librarian working at library@orchard, shared, library@orchard was in a good location because the location allowed the library to ‘catch’ people who normally might not go to a library. The other libraries like the ones in the neighbourhoods such as Tampines and Bishan cater to people who already have the intention to go to the library while library@orchard caters to the passer-by. The unique location of the library, in a shopping center at the heart of our shopping district, becomes an attraction. I can imagine a situation where an individual is in town to engage in conspicuous consumption and decides to take a look at this library in Orchard Road. The individual might not borrow any books but information is spread, if the individual encounters the exhibition, and awareness is raised.
The library isn’t just a physical location to store books. Print media with books, magazines and newspapers as the different formats has been the main way for recording and disseminating human knowledge and that is what libraries have come to be commonly associated with. However the library has evolved to be a place to share knowledge and educate and there are many ways to do that. An exhibition with posters, pamphlets and videos is one of those ways.
With the lost of library@orchard, as Michael a volunteer from the Vegetarian Society Singapore shared, we have lost a valuable public space to share knowledge and raise awareness about issues that should be important to us.
The National Library Board has a programmes division that decides what exhibitions are to be held at the different branches. However each branch is given a certain level of autonomy where they can decide on exhibitions to hold at their branch. For this exhibition by the Vegetarian Society Singapore, the decision to host it was made by the librarians at library@orchard. Part of the exhibition was a display of books related to being a vegetarian. These books were chosen by the librarians. It is here where we see the importance of librarians. In a time where knowledge is growing at a rapid pace and its availability increasing, there is the need for librarians who practice the role of curatorship.
Beyond the need for librarians to select and direct our attention to what is relevant and important, there is the need for librarians to do information organization. While netizens have grown used to tagging to organize information by implementing a folksonomy from a bottoms-up approach, arguably there will always be the need for certain domains and forms of knowledge to be organized by implementing a taxonomy. With regards to print media, because books are physical artifacts and thus can only be at one place (in this case only on one shelf) at any given time, information organization is critical to the facilitation of finding what we need efficiently. While print media may fade in prominence as digital information moves to the foreground, it seems that there might still be the need for librarians at least in the form of people who are trained in the organization of information.
So how do we represent the way the books have been organized? Every book in the library has a label. For a fiction book, the label contains the first three characters of the author’s surname. For a non-fiction book, the label contains the first three characters of the author’s surname as well as a series of digits which represents the category of knowledge the book is classified under. In Singapore, our libraries use the Dewey Decimal System to classify the books. I learned something new from Jillian today. Instead of just labeling the books with the above mentioned information, the labels also have color strips printed on them where each color strip represents an alphanumeric character. These color strips help the librarians and library assistants determine that books have been shelved properly. I have been using the library for such a long time but have never registered the purpose of these strips until today.
I started the day agonizing about how I could contribute to library@orchard’s moving on with a blog post. But by going down to get material to write that post, the library and Jillian in her capacity as a librarian taught me a fair number of new things – I even learned a bit about Germany from a talk that was held. Libraries are not just a place to house books nor are librarians the people who just take care of books and hush us when we break the golden silence. Libraries and librarians are respectively the storehouses and custodians of knowledge in all its forms. In losing library@orchard, we as Singaporeans have lost, in the center of our conspicuous consumption, the space that trades in the most valuable of assets – knowledge. Jillian hinted at plans to come and I do hope we regain such a place, if not places, in the heart of our shopping district.