07 Aug

Libraries in Singapore once had an overcrowding problem.

Libraries are wonderful! Libraries in Singapore are full of stories, and literally, storeys of books. They have been drawing hordes of Singaporeans from all walks of life — like moths to a flame!

And as we have learnt from our friends from the Singapore Policy History Project team at the National Archives of Singapore, our first mobile library rolled out on 5 September 1960 because our one main library was fast becoming overcrowded with a junior membership multiplying tenfold from 3000 to more than 30,000 between 1956 and 1961.


The first mobile library started visiting schools in rural areas such as Jurong, Bukit Panjang, and Sembawang, and became so popular that it was extended to community centres located in rural areas in the mid-1960s. Its vehicles made fortnightly visits to schools and community centres. Each vehicle could carry more than 2000 books and operated from 5pm to 7pm for the convenience of readers. So committed were the librarians that they would charter taxis to transport books to the designated locations when a mobile library vehicle broke down!


The opening of the weekly mobile library service at Nee Soon Community Centre in 1965. Credit line: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

In the 1970s, the mobile library service expanded as its vehicles visited more areas in Singapore. This service was gradually phased out in the 1980s and replaced by the permanent branch libraries in housing estates. After 30 years of bringing books and reading to the people, this mobile service ceased in January 1991.

The idea of a mobile library, however, was far from over, and in 2008, Molly the Mobile Library was born! A refitted SBS Transit bus, Molly was launched to bring reading to people who did not have ready access to public libraries.

Associate Professor Dr Yaacob Ibrahim brings a student to Molly using the ramp which provides better wheelchair access. Credit line: National Library Board Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

This hardworking Molly operated seven days a week and visited special education schools, primary schools, orphanages, and senior citizens’ centres. After serving more than four hundred organisations and 230,000 users, this Molly bus was retired in late 2011 and a new Molly bus was launched in February 2012. The new Molly boasted improved features such as iPads to provide access to e-books, interactive software, and online resources.


A “Mini Molly” which is designed to provide children with an immersive library experience, with storytelling, art and craft, and sing-along sessions. Credit line: National Library Board Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.


To reach out to an even wider audience, two “mini Mollys” rolled out in 2014 to kindergartens, childcare centres, and welfare homes with smaller carparks that the larger Molly could not navigate in.

Molly at the Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA) School, 2016. Credit line: National Library Board Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

Like to know more about our Mobile Libraries and Molly? Check out this link for a story about Mobile Library by the National Archives of Singapore and  Singapore Infopedia for an overview.