The Woman Who Reinvented Reading in Singapore

When was the last time you dropped by one of the public libraries in Singapore? Filled from shelf to shelf of knowledge for adults and children alike, the NLB (National Library Board) has provided a wealth of information for us and our families through the libraries that are thriving nationwide.

As much as the library may hold different meanings and importance to each of us, there is no question that its establishment marked a milestone in Singapore’s history. Who was the one who made this happen?


Known as the ‘library legend’, Hedwig Anuar (born in 1928) was the first Singaporean to be appointed Director of the National Library Board in 1960, and helmed it for 28 years. Though the everyday Singaporean may not know her name, her efforts in developing and expanding the national libraries has been felt by everyone. Under her leadership, the number of libraries in Singapore jumped from just a single one to nine!

One of her most significant projects was the Mobile Library Service, which provided library services to over 2000 students in 35 rural schools in the outer districts of Singapore in the beginning of the 1960s. The notion of not having our own school libraries sounds odd today, but fifty years ago, it was actually quite the luxury!

Anuar’s pioneering spirit of reinvention did not stop there, as she came up with a weekly magazine programme for the radio called ‘Our Library’, which helped to promote and enhance local interest in the libraries. The magazine would include excerpts from books and reviews, as well as news about what was happening at the library. Putting that into perspective, the radio back then would be equivalent to the Internet which we’re all so familiar with now!

Anuar reached out to the people through her work as Director, and an award has been named after her, the Hedwig Anuar’s Children Book Award. Still, it’s hard to believe that it was only just last year (2014) that she was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame for her achievements and contributions.

Reading is an important privilege that we shouldn’t take for granted, and literacy is a powerful tool that can help us chase our dreams and find success. This is especially true for the children and future generations that will follow in the paths our pioneers have carved out.

Hedwig Anuar’s work has not only reinvented the way Singaporeans in the past could access knowledge, but has given us a great look into how much one person can really make a change!  As we celebrate our golden jubilee this month, it’s important to never forget the many people who have played a part in building our nation up to where it is today (:

You can read more about Hedwig Anuar here.

Our Sources

Toh, S. (1988, November 20) Farewell of surprises as library legend Hedwig Anuar retires. The Straits Times. Retrieved from
Hedwig Anuar. (n.d.). In Singapore Infopedia online. Retrieved from

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