Because talking about the haze is so passé

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the National Library lately — not to deliberately avoid the haze, but the timing has turned out to be quite fortuitous. My research work aside, the library has turned out to be quite the hive of activity lately. It’s not all about books these days.

On the ground level plaza, as I exited the place at 7 pm yesterday, I was greeted by loud exhortations to shout and kick and punch and jab, which reminded me immediately of the kickboxing classes I used to take at the YMCA. It turned out that there was some kind of women’s health promotion activity going on, with the instructors roaring gamely on stage while participants tried to keep up with the routine. My first thought was to wonder where all of them were going to take a shower after the event was over, since the library isn’t exactly fitted out with locker rooms and shower facilities.

Speaking of lockers, yesterday morning I popped into the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library on the eleventh floor, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I no longer need to make sure I have 20-cent coins at the ready for locker usage. The library’s fairly strict about not allowing large bags and extraneous materials into their reference section (the better to ensure that no one steals any of their resources, I guess), and it used to be that you had to stash your stuff inside a locker, which at 20 cents per use was hardly expensive — but it was a bit of a pain if you didn’t have any 20-cent coins on you, or if you left something you needed in the locker and, upon retrieving it, had to scrounge another 20-cent coin to re-lock your things. (Can you tell that a) I’ve spent way too much time in the Reference Library lately, b) I’m not the most “together” person when it comes to juggling research?)

I’d recently seen a sign on the ground-floor main entrance about lockers being refitted, but I just assumed that was some kind of regular maintenance programme. Who knew that in fact they were going to replace all the lockers and make usage completely free? Hurrah! In exchange for free lockers, we merely have notices reminding users not to leave their things in the lockers overnight and that the locker area is under CCTV surveillance (which I’d sorta assumed it was from the start, anyway). Not a bad deal at all.

But really, the best gem at the library right now is the exhibition on the eighth floor, “Imprints of the Past: Remembering the 1966 Woodcut Show“. Forty years ago, six woodcut artists displayed their work at the old National Library at Stamford Road. The current show reunites the artists and their same works for the first time since that 1966 exhibition and they even had the same guest of honour, then minister for culture Lee Khoon Choy, to open it.

The exhibition runs only till Sunday (October 22) has been extended to the end of October and is totally worth checking out for the quality of the artworks and the vividness with which they capture a bygone period of Singapore life. There are no more satay hawkers along the street or Chinese storytellers. And they definitely don’t make art like this anymore.

So that’s the library for you. These days, it’s not just about the books.

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