Last week I took the kids to our new local children’s library, called “My Tree House” – which is part of the Central Public Library in Singapore. It was opened just two years ago and the photos online looked quite exciting. As a stay-at-home mum, it’s good to have a handful of free, fun nearby places to take the kids for a change of scenery. So I was hoping that our local library would be our new “second living room”. It is the world’s first “Green Library” for kids – and has been designed along green principles, as well as curated to facilitate environmental literacy in children. And as this is Singapore, it also boasts some “interactive electronic features”.
The entrance looks like this:
So far so good – the girls thought it very promising and literally ran in.
The centrepiece is a large tree with an impressive canopy and reading platform like this:
The kids were straight up it. But after realising there were no books or seats up there, they came back down. There were supposed to be a couple of interactive electronic features, but these seemed to be not working or did not interest them. They wandered the aisles for about 5 minutes before asking “what can we do here?”
“Well, we’re here to find some books for you – go have a look around!” I said encouragingly. But despite being generously stocked with books, the books were all neatly lined up dewey decimal style on the shelves.
There were no book boxes, no toys, and very few books displayed at eye-level for young children. Miss Chu is a pretty independent reader but it is still hard to get a 6-yr-old to be inspired by book titles crammed together sideways like this…let alone younger kids
“Where are the normal DVDs?” enquired Miss Chu, who looked a little concerned at the single row of appealing documentary titles (such as “Weather: Changes and Measurement“).
“Can I draw a map?” asked Little Miss. “I’m not sure…probably not right here sweetheart.” I whispered, glancing nervously around. (On a previous occasion, we had actually been told off by a librarian in the Chinatown library when we got the paper and crayons out – and were asked to put our supplies away, much to my surprise.) Library rules are pretty strict here!
Despite a promising start, the girls were not at all captivated by this library, and the handful of other young kids there seemed to be in the same boat. As we explored, I overheard a little girl being told off for running. And I sneakily snapped this pic of a little boy who was clearly bored and decided to investigate the store cupboards.
The kids have always enjoyed visiting the library in Edinburgh; even our little old local one which had a relatively small, slightly tatty children’s section. But somehow, libraries in Singapore (although we have only visited 2 or 3) don’t seem to be aimed at young children. One of the key issues that seems to have been missed is making the library exciting, enjoyable and accessible for children who cannot read.
Surely this means displaying books front-facing and low-down.
For pre-readers, the illustrations really matter and “their” library has to be more like a picture gallery to hold their attention.
Even with bookboxes, few preschoolers will be perusing the selection for long. Usually, Little Miss will riffle through briefly, find a couple of books with characters she recognises, dump them on my lap then lose interest and run off to play with toys or lift-the-flap books. What parents really need are cosy areas for reading together, and a fun, safe area for their little ones to play whilst they quickly scan the shelves themselves to choose some bedtime reading.
We just haven’t found that kind of setup here. We miss the shabby corner in our old local library with sticky duplos, the pretend car, the photocopied colouring sheets and biscuit tin of broken crayons. We really miss Edinburgh’s Central Children’s library, which had a great selection of books, DVDs and audiobooks, accessibly displayed for little ones in bookboxes and low shelves. There were comfy beanbags, fun plastic doggies to sit on and cosy nooks to read in, as well as (the main attraction!) an Art Room – stocked with paint, paper, pens, brushes – all free for public use.
It didn’t bother me that my kids spent most of their time in the library not reading. At their age, I just wanted them to enjoy spending time there, and get a feel for what the library is and how it works. I’ve been wondering why libraries here don’t seem to be so child-friendly. Perhaps – culturally – the library is considered more a place for older ones to learn and study? In any case, after a few visits to various libraries in Singapore, the girls have not been inclined to go back, and I find myself having to “drag” them to the library – not what I wanted at all! Perhaps I’ll write in. Maybe they’ll let me rearrange the furniture.