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She's taking the library outdoors and online to get the community excited about learning
By Audrey Ang
Fong Ying Yi_National Library Board_SPH Scholars Choice
Ms Fong Ying Yi and her team ensure everyone has equal access to the library, including those with disabilities. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

This veteran librarian is bringing interactive content to parks and using fun comics to counter fake news messaging

Over the past 13 years, Ms Fong Ying Yi’s job scope at the National Library Board (NLB) has always been about putting readers first and making knowledge accessible to all.

This was the reason why she joined NLB as a librarian in 2009 after pursuing a postgraduate degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the United States.

“It was amazing,” recalls the 38-year-old, of her experience abroad. “I realised that libraries are a natural equaliser as they make credible information and services available for free to anyone.” 

More on this topic: This book lover is transforming the library-going experience

Today, as the deputy director at NLB’s Strategy division under the Partnership and Strategy Group, Ms Fong leads a team that is building on the library’s ongoing efforts to innovate, transform, and continue to remain relevant to citizens. This includes reaching out to people beyond physical libraries, educating readers on how to spot fake news, services for persons with disabilities, and offering online content.

Here, she shares more about her work and the organisation’s five-year road map – Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025 (LAB25) – to reimagine our libraries and archives of the future.

Q. How does the library continue to make reading and learning accessible to all?

A. In a climate where there are concerns about inequality and a growing digital divide, NLB continues to provide opportunities to citizens of all ages to read, learn and discover, whether physically or online.

One such initiative is kidsREAD, a free programme conducted by trained volunteers who reach out to children from low-income families, aged between four and eight years old, to inculcate the joy of reading.

Another example is the newly opened Punggol Regional Library, a library with something for everyone, including Braille books (with text) as well as services for persons with disabilities such as assistive technology, calm pods and wheelchair-accessible “Borrow-n-Go” book-borrowing stations.

We have also added to our digital resources, given that the way people access information has since changed. We now have over 1.7 million e-books and audiobooks, thousands of e-newspapers and magazines, and various online course providers to give people more access to learning. 

If you are less tech-savvy, our new flagship programme ExperienceIT, in collaboration with partners such as Amazon Web Services, will build interest and confidence through helping you experience and learn more about emerging technologies such as machine learning. 

“I realised that libraries are a natural equaliser as they make credible information and services available for free to anyone.”

Ms Fong Ying Yi, deputy director, NLB Strategy division

Q. In this age of information overload and misinformation, how is NLB helping the public become more discerning about fake news? 

A. With the rise of misinformation and echo chambers – where a person comes across beliefs that reinforce their own views – coupled with the fact that content can be so easily created, distributed and consumed digitally,  NLB introduced a new initiative called Read to be SURE.

The programme is part of NLB’s LAB25 pillar of nurturing an informed citizenry, where the aim is to leverage trending topics such as the metaverse, cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens, for example, to introduce multiple perspectives for people to gain a wider and deeper understanding.

As people learn and absorb information differently, we have also used different mediums – including videos, comics, polls and even bringing in guest speakers – to get the message across. 

Information literacy is an important part of what NLB does. Recognising the growing and changing face of misinformation, we have set up our flagship information literacy programme S.U.R.E., which stands for Source, Understand, Research, Evaluate. Our goal is to equip people with the tools to better evaluate the credibility of information they come across in their daily lives.

Q. How does NLB encourage knowledge sharing beyond the four walls of the physical library? 

A. In October 2021, NLB rolled out nodes – new channels to disseminate information – to extend the library experience beyond NLB’s physical spaces, as part of its LAB25’s Learning Marketplace pillar.

We have seen how people are gravitating towards consuming more bite-sized and easily digestible information, especially in an age of information overload. Nodes are a response to that change and a way to help counter this. 

Because of its inherently agile nature, nodes can range in format and size. You can spot them at malls, eateries, parks and offices. Some examples include a Wall of Haikus at Jewel Changi’s MUJI store, plus interactive installations and experimental spaces in malls and parks. 

Q. How can NLB scholars contribute to this space?

A. NLB scholars will have the opportunity to work in various divisions. If you enjoy working with children, seniors or persons with disabilities, we have specialised teams to conceptualise and deliver services to them. Want to get others excited about history and heritage? Our archives team is the place for you. Whatever your passion, NLB’s spirit of innovation and experimentation will always give you a voice to help shape the future. 

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