library@chinatown celebrated its third anniversary recently with a volunteer appreciation event, thanking its many volunteers, particularly seniors, for its successful model.
Singapore’s first volunteer-run library, library@chinatown, turned three recently. The library, which serves a majority of seniors in the area, but also attracts teenagers, working adults and families, couldn’t have reached this important milestone if it wasn’t for its 80 ad-hoc and regular volunteers.
Chen Wanying, library manager, library@chinatown, said that since it opened in 2013, volunteer figures have doubled. “The initial challenges was to have sufficient members of the public to sign up as volunteers. However, the volunteers enjoy their time spent at the library@chinatown, and encourage their like-minded friends to join the initiative as well.”
Added Evelyn Quek, assistant director, CSR and volunteer management, National Library Board (NLB), “There are many invaluable benefits that our volunteers have received through volunteering at the library. Not only have they immersed themselves in the Chinese arts and culture collection, but they have made new friends and become part of the community at library@chinatown.”
Eighty percent of the library@chinatown’s volunteers comprise of those over the age of 50. The oldest volunteer currently is Tang Pui Yin, an 82-year-old retired healthcare service provider, who also volunteers at a daycare centre for seniors in Chinatown.
Love for Chinese arts & culture
There is also 70-year-old David Lim, who began volunteering there since January 2013 as a regular service steward and is considered the “pioneer batch” of volunteers. He found out that the library@chinatown needed volunteers through an interest group at Tampines RC. His interest also piqued as the library is NLB’s first themed library on Chinese arts and culture, and offers a curated collection under the four pillars – music, chess, calligraphy and painting. “I am Chinese-educated and Chinese arts and culture are of interest to me,” shared the grandfather of three and retired contractor focusing on housing renovation.
Besides clearing books from the book drops and putting them back on the shelves, and making sure the books are on the correct shelves (a term called “shelf-reading”), mid-last year, he took on yet another role as a programme facilitator to coach library patrons in Chinese arts and culture programmes such as Chinese calligraphy, Chinese knots and paper cutting, something he couldn’t be happier. During his workshops, he gets to recommend books and do his part in “promoting Chinese arts and culture to future generations”.
He volunteers at the library twice a month for four hours and also comes in during his free time. He said that he feels good being able to find materials and books that patrons need and the “little family” environment that the library has created for its volunteers. He also continues to volunteer as the timings are flexible – he can come in on the weekdays or weekends, and decides on a preferred timeframe.
“As long as your lifestyle is enriching, you will feel happy,” said David. “Seniors have a lot of spare time. Make sure you use it and do what you like, whether it is life-long learning, and you will be happy.”
Not a first-time volunteer
Like David, Sharon Au, 59, heard about the library at the same interest group and jumped on the chance to be a part of it in January 2013. She is not new to volunteering as she has been volunteering since the age of 20, but mostly on a project-basis for various non-profit organisations like TAS Theatre, Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA) as well as for her temple. She shared that her volunteering here at the library is considered her longest volunteering stint.
She comes to the library on selected weekday afternoons, or during the weekends when she has time off from her work as an administration executive. Since mid-2015, the mother of two has taken on more responsibility as a coach to guide new volunteers – youths and seniors – during induction programmes and while on duty. “If I have the time and I am healthy, I want to help society and pay it forward,” said Sharon. “There is a sense of camaraderie within the group of volunteers. I am happy and have the time to volunteer.”
She also helps to put books back on the shelves. “Customers are friendly and after reading the books, they know how to put them back on the original shelves. They help me out.” Her help has also gone beyond just books. She shared once, a senior asked how to access the Wi-Fi network within the library and Sharon was more than happy to help.