How one Singapore library is keeping up with the digital age

At a time when traditional industries are being upended by technological disruption, the most progressive libraries around the world in places like South Korea are pulling all stops to stay relevant to users who prefer to turn to digital resources rather than visit a local library.

In Singapore, public library users have been able to download e-books and electronic versions of popular magazines for free, as well as access information databases that cover a broad range of subjects for some time now.

The Sports Hub Library is no exception. Located at the Singapore Sports Hub, the city-state’s largest sporting and events facility, the library offers easy access to a wide range of digital resources such as e-books, e-journals and images, which are searchable through library management software provided by Civica, a supplier of library services and systems.

The library also subscribes to the SportDiscus online database that provides full-text access to sports, fitness and health-related journals and publications.

Like the public libraries run by Singapore’s National Library Board, the Sports Hub library also uses a recommendations engine to suggest resources based on the user’s borrowing preferences, as well as radio frequency identification (RFID) that lets users check out physical items at self-service stations, and return them at a 24-hour book-drop with immediate cancellation of loans.

The RFID technology also makes stocktaking much easier as books on shelves can be scanned directly without having to remove them from the shelves, says SS Chopra, managing director of Civica Singapore.

With libraries evolving to become learning and participatory spaces, rather than merely serving as book repositories, the Sports Hub Library offers activities and programmes that cater to sporting professionals, children and elderly users who are interested in amateur games. The library facilities include video viewing stations, virtual sports stations, a giant chess and checkers board, internet stations, meeting rooms and a kids’ zone.

These efforts to remain relevant are already bearing fruit. At the time when libraries are facing declining membership and loans, the Sports Hub’s library membership grew by 62.4% compared to 2015. Along with this increase, the library’s loan rate also jumped by 196%, with the total number of loans transacted reaching 73,973 from 25,619 for the same period ending June 2016.

More can be done, however, given that the Sports Hub Library is one of the newest libraries in Singapore, and is hence free from the shackles of legacy systems and thinking that have held back some libraries from transforming themselves in the digital age. For example, it could explore the use of AI chatbots to help users with their enquiries or enable users to check out physical items using a smartphone without having to use a self-service terminal.