Thursday, March 24, 2005

Correction -- there ARE costs in extending library opening hours

This is really for my fellow Singaporeans (I hope this gets passed around):
Soon after my post on NLB libraries opening longer on weekends, I received a comment from anonymous, who was skeptical that the library was able to extend opening hours without additional costs. I posted a reply, indicating broadly how the libraries were able to do this.

In composing the reply, I realised that anonymous was actually right. There ARE additional costs, but not what most would think.

The cost here is really the opportunity cost of working on weekends. And the people bearing this cost are my colleagues in the front lines -- the Library Assistants, Library Officers, the Librarians.

Sure, someone might point out that staff get compensated (either with an equivalent time-off or overtime pay) for working on weekends, so there isn't a real opportunity cost. But I'd argue that nothing can fully make up for the loss of those weekend hours -- where one could have spent that time with family and friends, or just sleeping in after a work week. Weekends are often the only time most families and friends can get together.

Ok, before you think I'm ranting about the injustice of having to work weekends, or that I'm just posting a load of crap 'cos I don't work weekends as a manager -- well, I've done my share of weekends over the years. But that's not my point.

My point is that most library front-line staff (i.e. those who are customer-facing or manning call centres, ensuring that libraries for public use are open 7 days a week) are a dedicated lot, whether consciously or not. Sure, some grumble but they trundle on. Most try their damnest to serve library users the best that they can. They do this while dealing with a rising number of rude and ungracious kids and adults, plus the sheer stress of facing the crowds.

It's not a glamourous job, and they don't get huge bonuses. Unlike private companies in general, there are no sales profits for getting more customers to come into libraries.

Heck, I'm not even asking you to write compliments. I just sincerely hope that you, the NLB library user, remember what your fellow Singaporean is sacrificing.


  1. I have always wanted the libraries to be 24 hours... with the self-servicing borrowing machines and a skeleton night crew of one caretaker or perhaps none even ... do you think it is feasible?

  2. It can be done. That's not a problem. But whether it is economically feasible, that's a different question. Usage of the library must justify the cost of running it (staffing, utilities etc). Moreover, people might come and use it but for sleeping.

    So I really don't know. Maybe in future, NLB could conduct a poll among the community or something, like how HDB does for block upgrading.

  3. i was brought up that the library and books are sacred, and thus, i have nothing but full respect and admiration for its staff.

    i wish the younger population would be brought up the same way too.

  4. Hobbes8:04 pm

    Kudos to the NLB staff! I think its fantastic that hours are now extended.

    I like roxanne's idea of a 24hr library. Perhaps NLB could consider it for the new central library.

    With the SMU campus opening soon, the Bugis area has the potential to florish into a very 24hr, vibrant student "bohemian" type place.

    Maybe NLB can team up with some enterprising cafe owner to run the library after hours? After all, thousands of students in spore are always seeking comfortable quiet places to study.

    Sell it as part of making Spore a more vibrant city that never sleeps.

  5. Libraries are one of my most fav spots in sg because I read alot. In fact, I step into a library pretty much every other day to read or to borrow books. I have also wished that our libraries are opened 24 hours but after reading your post I think I will take back that wish because it does not justify already dedicated library staff working even longer hours.

  6. Hello EYES -- oh dear, my intent was not to make you take back your wish. I think Hobbes' (just above your comment) suggestion is something to think about, since it does fit into the larger picture of reinventing Singapore. We'll see.

    Public libraries are part of public services, i.e. Service to Public/ Singaporeans. We have to see what the public wants.

    All I'm saying is that the public should also show appreciation when they get what they want, and not say "because I pay taxes what...". What? They think employees in Statutory Boards and Civil Service no need to pay tax meh? :)

    To all who commented so far: Thanks for supporting your library! My colleagues and I appreciate your kind words.

  7. Oops perhaps I should expand on my previous comment :P If there is a solution whereby the library can be opened for 24 hours without an increase in staff work hours then I would raise both hands and feets in agreement. If the extented hours means more work for library staff then I would be content with the present or previous arrangements. This is perhaps my own funny way of showing appreciation for our library staff hee :P


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