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[Featured] The Straits Times - New Punggol library encourages tinkering and storytelling

Updated: Apr 6

New Punggol library encourages tinkering and storytelling, including for children with disabilities



SINGAPORE - A wind tunnel to test out self-built inventions, an area to role-play stories, and a room filled with large, interactive walls showcasing pieces of Singaporean poetry – these are features more often seen at upmarket parent-child workshops.

But they, as well as resources catering to people with disabilities, will be freely accessible by members of the public at the new Punggol Regional Library, which opened on Monday. Located within the One Punggol integrated community hub, the library will occupy five storeys, though currently only the first two levels, both dedicated to children, are operational. The remaining three floors are set to open in the coming months.

Nevertheless, there is more than enough to explore at the soft launch, such as a tinkering space on the second floor that the National Library Board has set up in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution of the United States.

Aimed at getting children to tackle hands-on problems independently, it encourages them to invent solutions to engineering challenges – such as how to construct an item to hover in a wind tunnel, or how to build structures around a teetering table without them falling.

 
The Storyteller Cove, a space with animations, illustrations, and activity stations including for prop-making, aims to inspire children to create their own stories. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

In line with NLB’s Libraries and Archives Blueprint 2025 (LAB25), which aims in part to make libraries more inclusive to all, the new facility incorporates numerous accessible features to serve the needs of people with disabilities.


For instance, one feature to make the library more friendly for wheelchair-bound patrons is the “Borrow-n-Go” passageway, which utilises Ultra-High Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to enable users to borrow their desired titles without having to place them on a table-top, as is the case at traditional borrowing kiosks.


The library also offers Calm Pods, quiet and safe spaces with wall and floor padding, as well as sensory aids, for users with disabilities to go to should they need privacy to calm down.

 

Ms Judy Wee, 61, an accessibility consultant and a member of NLB’s Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, using the Borrow-n-Go passageway to loan books. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

These spaces were embraced by Ms Anna Ico Tingzon, 45, who was among the patrons who visited the library on Monday.


The mother of a child with Down Syndrome, Ms Tingzon said she appreciated their inclusion as her daughter sometimes experiences difficulties regulating her emotions.


She hopes that apart from the inclusive features, library staff will also be equipped to help library patrons with disabilities, citing past experiences at other libraries where librarians did not understand her daughter’s condition.


Multi-coloured keyboards with large keys have also been installed at the new library, so that people with visual impairments can access the library’s catalogue with greater ease.


These accessible features were created with inputs from the Singaporean disability community, including the NLB’s Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, which includes experts on child development, and the CEOs of local social service organisations.


Such features could be as innocuous as the sound a lift button makes when pressed, said Mr. Bernard Chew, 49, a member of the advisory committee.


 
Assistive technology devices such as coloured keyboards with larger keys are available to aid visually impaired patrons. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The chief executive officer of St. Andrew’s Autism Centre said the library’s lift buttons originally made a very shrill sound, which could trigger persons with autism, as they often experience sensory overload.


He suggested implementing a longer time lag between the pressing of the button and its sound being emitted, which NLB adopted during the construction of the library. “Thinking through how the whole environment can be made a little bit more welcoming for persons with autism – that’s been the fulfilling part of the journey,” said Mr Chew.


That Punggol Regional Library was designed to be inclusive and accessible to all is important as Singapore’s public libraries are intended to serve all its citizens, regardless of background or physical condition, Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo said at the launch event.


By enabling everyone to acquire knowledge and achieve self-improvement, the Republic’s libraries can be an equaliser that gives each citizen the avenues to uplift themselves, she added.


Other features aimed at children include NLB’s first permanent toy library, which offers puppets, costumes and props to experiment with, and a Storyteller Cove that provides prompts for children to come up with their own tales.


Said Ms Catherine Lau, deputy chief executive of NLB: “When we plan the space, we want it to spark imagination and curiosity.”


 

In addition, a Stories Come Alive room on the first floor features interactive screens that animate Singaporean poems across the four official languages.


For instance, in a rendition of Singaporean lawyer and writer Ronald Wong’s poem Punggol, children are able to tap on accompanying pop-ups to explore the locations featured in the work, such as the all-but-forgotten Babujan Zoo that was a neighbourhood fixture in the 1930s.


“We want them to learn through using our book collection, through playing at the toy library and the other interactive activities,” Ms Lau said.


 
The Stories Come Alive Room uses moving images, text, and light and sound effects to make storytelling an immersive and interactive experience for children aged four to 10 years. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Speaking to The Straits Times, Ms. Verena Lee, assistant director of the Punggol Regional Library, said: “We want to welcome persons with disabilities in and make sure they feel accepted... We want to continue to shape how we deliver our services, to think of new ways to engage our community.


“So come, use the library, and give us feedback.”



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