Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Can you remember the procedure for borrowing books at the old National Library?

When I last visited the National Library at Victoria Street, I saw some exhibits of the old library cards. I am trying to recall the system for borrowing and returning books. Hope older readers can confirm if I remember correctly.

1) Each registered member is given a number of library cards like the one in the photo above.
2) When you want to borrow a book, the librarian will take out the card from a pocket mounted on the back cover of the book and slot in your membership card and place it in a wooden box with the cards arranged in alphabetical order.
3) She will stamp the due date on the Due Date slip pasted on the back cover of the book.
4) When you return the book, she would look for your card and take out the book card, slot it back into the pocket in the back of the book and return your card to you.

(Photo credit: Above black and white photo is from the National Library Board's CD; MOMENTS & MEMORIES)

Recently, I received an email from an architectural student asking me if I could recall what used be on the grassy patch of land at the junction of Armenian Street and Stamford Road. See photo below; and here’s my reply. I wonder if older readers can confirm if I remember correctly.

Below is a map of from my 1981 street directory for reference.

"If my memory serves me, it used to be a sort of make-shift, single storey open coffee shop; i.e. without walls. Stalls may be a better word. So as the bus rounded the bend from Armenian Street and turns left into Stamford Rd, immediately there is bus stop. This coffee shop is directly behind the bus stop. Immediately after the bus stop is the entrance (for cars) to the Nat Lib. Further down is the exit, and after that is the National Museum.

Behind this coffee shop would be an open car park. I think part of it is still there. Many users of the library would take their meals here. Across the road at Waterloo Street were several very famous Indian sarabak stalls selling Indian Rojak and Mee Rebus. When we want to get to the library, we take a bus and alight at Bras Basah Rd and walk along Waterloo Street. We were bound to be accosted by the hawkers.

What I remember most about the coffee shop at the Library was the ice kacang. They had these jars of multi-colour syrup and there were always some bees hovering around them. Even when you were not going to the library, the bus always stopped at this bus stop and if you were sitting in the aisle seat, you could see these syrup and bees.

What are my thoughts when I pass this place? The green patch itself - not much except for the bees and syrup. My other thought is; "No life".

But this area as a whole; especially the tunnel entrance make me fell a sense of resentment that the government refused to listen to the people and insisted on destroying something so dear to our memories of our childhood; in spite of strong objections from many people."

I remember our PM saying at one of his National Rally speeches that the government wanted to redevelop this area into a ‘hip’ and happening place where young people can hangout etc. etc. But when I see this place now, it looks so deserted and lifeless. During our time, it was truly full of life. Even the MPH building was always crowded with students and young people.

One more question for the oldies. According to my 1981 street directory, there was CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau) building next to the library. I don’t have any recollections of this building. I always thought the CPIB building was at Cantonment Road?

Related posts;

2) Victor’s recent post about the National Library


Ngiam Shih Tung said...

Can't agree with more the sentiments expressed about the decision to demolish the National Library. Funny how it's the strangest things that people remember. My strongest memory of the library is also the ice kachang stall with bees buzzing around.

Yes, the patch of ground used to contain a row of shophouses as well as the national library canteen.
The canteen would have been just off the right side of this photo.

I have a post on this here,

We literally tore down a repository of knowledge to build a white elephant black hole.

According to CPIB's website, they were at Stamford Rd between 1962-1984,

I do vaguely recall a building at that site, but I was never invited to "lim kopi" there, so the memory is hazy ;-)

Calvin said...

From 1962 to 1984, CPIB was given its own office space in 1961, when it shifted to a 3-storey building at Stamford Road. This building was sited right next to the former National Library building and it remained CPIB's office for the next 23 years.

Between 1984 and 1998, CPIB was re-located at Hill Street Centre.

On 9 Mar 1998, CPIB shifted to the former Keppel Primary School premises at Cantonment Road.

In April 2004, the Bureau shifted to its present premises at 2 Lengkok Bahru.

I hope the above helps! =)

DK said...

It's a pity they tore down the old National Library for a short and useless tunnel. Sigh.

Edwin said...

To be precise, the foodstalls are not located at the junction of Armenian St and Stamford Rd (the location indicated in your photo). They are located further up within the compound of the old NL and beside the old CPIB office. What used to be at that junction were row of shops, with those shops facing Stamford Rd selling mainly crocodile reptile products. I remember the last shop, just before the bus stop was known as Malayan Reptile House.

Victor said...

Chun See, the procedure you described is largely correct, except that I think the pocket for storing the book card was inside the front cover of the book whereas the "Date Due" sheet was pasted on the very first page of the book (often a blank page). They were not inside the back cover. Logically, they were located together otherwise, the already busy librarian would have to flip the book from front to back when you borrow a book - not a very practical or efficient way, I feel.

peter said...

Exactly at the corner (where u see the traffic light signal pole today)was a sports shop called, "Friends & Company". I think it was a Chinese-run shop not the same as those on Bras Basah Road like Champion Sports Shop or Ratnam Sports Shop or Olympic(who were Sikh folks). The Chinese owner very stuck-up as I recall. The wooden doors of the shop painted blue in the mid-60s.

Later the business not so good and it sold secondhadn office equipment supplies like repair typewriters and office rubber stamps.

Watching the man making office rubber stamps was my favorite past-time. Nowdays I cannot find such shops making rubber stamps since the ones at Upper Pickering Street were gone. But I can still find in JB near the Hindu temple opposite City Square.

peter said...

Yah i remember seeing stuff black/tanned colour crocodile at the shop window behind the bus stop.

peter said...

chun see
your NLB library card is beige for adult section. I think for children sexction pink colour. can anybody confirm i say the right thing.

Unk Dicko said...

All of you have v good memories about the place near the NL and also the NL cards. are spot on about those shops including the "stuck-up" Chinese one and what they sold or offered. And CPIB was there as all of you described, close to the ice-kachang stall with "bees always surrounding it". Funny thing,I never recall anyone getting stung by them, myself included. Two things, among others, I never miss on my visits around there. This ice-kachang stall and the wanton mee stall. Both were superb.
About the Chinese shop described by Peter..the shopowner may be the cause of his lack of business. He was not just stuck-up but had a most unfriendly look if we ( and not the tai-tais and tourist) ordinary folks stop to have a look at his goods.
Often, me and my friends will cross over the road to Bencoolen St for the wonderful Indian rojak too. One original chap is now located at Food Centre opposite WTC.
Thanks for the memories!

Unk Dicko said...

The Indian rojak I refer to was all located at Waterloo St. Bencoolen St had their own attractions.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, the name of the coffee shop was called "S11 Coffee Shop". This was during the mid 90's.

S11 is another way of saying $, isn't it?

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks to Edwin for bringing back to my memory about that reptile skin shop.

How about the CPIB building? Was it light blue in colour?

Zen said...

I am quite sure not many young people know that there existed a library called the raffles library which was then an annexe to the national museum in the fifties. Later on the national library was built at the site adjacent to the museum. When I was in primary school, my father took me to register at the raffles library to borrow books. I can still remember the first book I borrowed was about Dr Sun Yat Sun life story. There was an incident when the young Sun visited his ancestorial village and went into a village temple. He startled the villagers by breaking off one finger of an deity just to prove his point that the residents there had feudal thoughts believing in superstitions.

peter said...

CPIB building (2 storey) was painted in 2 colours. A grey-blue for the windows Including the window pane. The rest of the building some off-white colour. I think they did not paint it for a long time because the paint peelings were very visible. The roof is something like those you at CHIJMES - a bit sand colour.

There was a fence surrounding the building with a small gate. I think the present empty carpark which has a lone banyan tree was the carpark in front of the CPIB Building and next to the ice kachang stall.

I knew about this because my cousin work inside there. Each time I visited my cousin, I loved to peel the paint flakes. Nice feeling!

Edwin said...

I wonder how many remember in the 60's, the museum was called Raffles Museum. During that period, there were drinks & snack stalls lining the path leading to the Raffles museum. One of the stalls selling ice kachang had a sign saying "this stall is 67 years old, the oldest ice kachang stall in Singapore". And the "ice machine" was merely a block of ice, manually slide forth and back on an elevated piece of wood which had a blade in the centre.

Edward said...

unk Dicko, the Indian rojak stall in Waterloo Street – could this be located just outside the City School of Commerce (or Stamford College as it was also known)? This stall was frequented by many students of this private college during school hours. I heard that the teachers sometimes visited this sarabak stall to mark attendances for their classes!

Unk Dicko said...

Hi Edward,yes the very popular Indian rojak stalls ( there were at least 4 back then) were at Waterloo St. And yes, Stamford College was very close by. I think you may be right about the students and teachers congregating there. It was definitely the most popular Indian makan spot around the Library, Cathay, Bras Basah area.
When I accidentally re-discovered the best original Indian Rojak at the Food centre opp the WTC, many years ago, it had a signboard claiming " original Waterloo St Indian rojak". There are other stalls offering the same fare too.
I approached the stallholder, a man older than me and told him, " I seem to recognise you from long time ago".
He asked, " you eat my rojak at Waterloo Street?"
"Yes, from the 60's ! Many times."
Then he whispered to me, he is the only original Waterloo chap there.
But anyone can put up a sign claiming this and that right?
He assured me..."if you had tasted my fare before you'll know right?"
I said I certainly would. Taste, esp of the best food, cannot be erased easily.
Sure enough...the gravy was superb,the rojak crispy and fresh, embellished with lots of cucumber, onions and crispy green chilly.
My taste buds confirmed for was the original.
And the old man was estatic when I said it. We shook hands like old friends!

Ang Sar Lee said...

On the topic of Waterloo Street rojak stalls, there were some single storey buildings behind the stalls belonging to the British forces Provost Unit.

One of the stall remains at Waterloo Street, in the coffeeshop at Blk 262.

Zen said...

The rojak stall stalls in waterloo streets were so famous that some locals claimed seeing malaysian royalties eating there, while parking their cars alongside the road. Not only this, they went on to say that these rich rojak operators routinely 'flew' back to India and also owned properties there.

yg said...

i had thought that the cpib building was between the library and the museum. when i checked the 1969 street directory, it shows the building between the library and tao nan school.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Actually I like our new library better. But nothing like the food under the trees. Now the dishes at Han's cost a bomb!

Icemoon said...

Andy, the real bomb is the cafe outside Drama Centre. Have you tried that?

I only remember the kambing soup at the open air hawker center.

peter said...

Before the site was used for NLB, it was the original site for St Andrew's School. The CPIB Bdlg + the old canteen (it was St Andrew's School tuckshop then) were part of the school buildings. St Andrew's later moved to Woodsville.

Thimbuktu said...

Many of us who are the old readers of the National Library at Stamford Road have added more details and bits and pieces of information of nostalgic memories at GMY blog topic.

Interesting "memory aid" to enhance and improve our fond memories. I've found something about the early days of the idea of a public library mooted in 1823 as a complement topic:
"Key to Knowledge - Libraries for Life"

Edmund said...

I was born in 1954. I was living in Armenian Street from late 1950 to 1985 in one of the apartments of the building housing the famous char kway teow stall. The building belonged to Loke Wan Tho, the founder of Cathay Organization. My grandfather had rented the two-room rent-controlled apartment for S$36 per month. The lease was 'passed on' to my mother when my grandfather left to re-marry in Ipoh. My parents moved out in the 90s several years after the Rent Control Act was abolished.

My brothers and I have very fond memories of the Fort Canning area and the neighbourhood of Armenian Street as it was one big playground for us. Indeed, behind the building there was a playground with trees, swings and a see-saw. Children would gather there to play marbles, humtam bola, cha-tek, lastik, kuti-kuti, badminton, etc. Older readers will know that there were seasons for some of these games. At one end of the square, there was a row of hawker stalls selling mee rabus, char kway, laksa, nasi lemak, teh tarik. They weren't there before the late 60s. We had always love a visit to the old Indian ice-ball man at the entrance of the National Museum. For those who don't know his name was Mydin (or Maidin?). As for the CPIB building, in the 60's there was a small single storey house next to it. It was occupied by a Malay family with many cats. Maybe the caretaker of the building lived there, but I don't really know for sure. That's all for now. Long live our happy childhood memories.

Lam Chun See said...

Edmund. Thanks for sharing those nuggets of information and memories of this area. Have you read my friend Simon Chu's memories of the Fort Canning area here?. He went to ACS in Coleman St and like you also loved to play there.

Anonymous said...

There was a bus top there and behind the bus stop was a S-11 coffee shop in the second half of 1990's. I cannot remember what was there before that.
I always thought it a pity the whole area had to go.
I remember buying CD's & books at MPH Powerhouse and taking lunch/ dinner at S-11. There was (minimally) a chicken rice stall which sold pretty good food, a indian mamak stall and fish ball noodle stall there.
This is Singapore- a place where many places are physically erased... only to be retained in memory...

Tim said...

I think the stretch of Armenian shophouses mention by Edmund has been 'converted' into walkup apartments of sorts about 2 yrs back. There is a corner coffeeshop selling chay kway teow and the chinese ngoh hiang store which has moved away. I use to partake with my friend and was quite surprise they have such a coffeshop area in such an area like this until recently.

Anonymous said...

Richard Lai said

Edwin's memory is very good and he is correct about the reptile product shop which sold expensive handbags, wallets etc. From my own memory there might be more than one shop selling reptile products. I use to walk up Queens Street from Middle Rd and turn right at the junction of Stamford Rd to go to National Library (about 3 to 4 times a week between 1967-68) The hawker centre is almost next to the National Library (left of the library entrance if you are looking at the library from across Stamford Rd. To enter the hawker centre you have to walk up a few slippery steps and its fully under cover permanent structure which can withstand heavy rain because I used to eat there after visiting the library. The food is quite good but I think there are only about 10 stores. The hygiene standard is very good by 1960s standards ( chairs and tables are quite clean and the floor is very clean too - don't know much about food preparation hygiene ). I never get sick after eating there so I think its quite good too. The bus stop is just in front of the food centre entrance and its very convenient. I am not sure when the food centre disappear since I left for Australia at the end of 1968 to study. I think when I visited Singapore on holidays in 1987 the food centre is still there. The National Library is definitely very dear to the teenagers of the 60s and 70s because its the only place where we all have nice memories of.

Lam Chun See said...

This week I attended the When Nations Remember Conference at the Carlton Hotel where I met Ms Azizah Sidek, a principal librarian who has worked for twenty years with NLB. I asked her to read this post of mine and grade my essay. I learnt a couple of new things from her reply and share them with you here.

1) The system described was known as the Browne Charging System and was used before 1987.
2) For children, the member’s library card or ticket was pink in colour.
3) The pocket for the book card was pasted on the verso page (I think that is the inside of the front cover) of the book and not on the back page as I mentioned.
4) The library ticket with book card is placed in a wooden box, arranged by the date due and transaction numbers and not alphabetical order.
5) The Date Due Slip is pasted on the title page of the book and not on the back cover.

She did not answer my question as to whether I got an A grade or not. Sigh ..... with so many mistakes, I guess I have to assume the worst :(

Lam Chun See said...

By the way, did you notice the additional photo of the libary counter that I have just put up?

sozinho_nos_sonhos said...

Do you guys remember what time the library closed during those days?