Helping out the library

I recently joined the National Library Board’s “Friends of the Library” programme as a volunteer. So far, I’ve gone for the orientation briefing and helped out with one story-telling session/lesson.

Things I have learned:

  1. Kids love volunteering with the library. Some of the Secondary school kids I volunteered with last Saturday informed me that they have to perform a compulsory 30 hours of community service a year. The library is a great place to volunteer for them as it is relatively easy, clean and effortless compared to old folks’ homes or flag days. Plus air conditioning and free food almost every single session.
  2. Other than the kids who need to fulfill a quota, adults really love volunteering with the library. There are over 15,000 volunteers according to the Volunteer Programme IC, of whom evidently there are several hundreds who perform over 15 hours of service a year. Top contributor last year did several hundreds of hours of service (to be fair, she is retired).
  3. Because of the glut of volunteers, library volunteer sessions tend to be very easy. I spent last Saturday with seven – eight other volunteers helping out with a story-telling session/lesson for the 10,000 Fathers Read! programme. From the attendance sheet, I think there were supposed to be more, but some didn’t show up. Still, there were more than enough of us to go round–only about three people were really required. Still, given that it’s a volunteer-thing and that there’s no gurantee that the people you ask for will show up, I guess the redundancy is a good thing.
  4. Our public library is very well-funded. The National Library Board gets a cool $180 million a year from our Budget. Which is why there are so many programmes about to encourage literacy and reading, and also the fancy new buildings and shiny new machines. (to my surprise, in terms of percentage, we spend relatively little on our library–only about 0.1% of GDP compared to South Korea which spends 0.31%, and the UK which spends 0.2%).
  5. Given its budget and size, library volunteers are frankly unnecessary–but I’ve think one of the reasons for the existence of the programme is to draw Singaporeans to become more involved with the NLB and help provide some kind of informal personal outreach. Hell, they’ve got me blogging about it so that’s got to be worth something.

On a somewhat related note, the guy doing the story-telling and giving tips was Roger Jenkins, a professional story-teller (I wonder how you end up with that job) who was really good, considering he managed to get a bunch of kids all excited and happy with nothing other than his voice. I don’t think he even had any props other than a tasteless star-adorned vest. Although I kept thinking “Leeroy” thoughout the session and imagining him telling some kind of fantasy story involving some idiot charging in at impossible enemies. He didn’t, but I was somewhat surprised that his stories featured quite some amount of violence (to an anthropomorphic chicken). I guess I’m just a wuss.

Bizarrely, he chose to end the tips on story-telling session with a story about “baby snake” and “baby frog” who become friends and teach each other how to slide and hop, respectively, but are torn apart by their parents who insist that they are mortal enemies (a little one-sided towards the snake’s side, I should think). Then he started talking about how important it was as parents to teach our kids to love rather than to hate, and to look beyond superficial differences so that we could all get together, muslims and jews, blacks and whites, indians and chinese. I almost thought he’d go for “Israeli and Palestinian”…

Whoa. Pushing the envelope for cultural relativism and racial harmony at a kids’ story-telling session? Heavy. The predominantly-upper-middle-class parents looked a bit stupified. I wanted to laugh, but I figured it would be a little bit rude, especially since it was a pretty good way to teach valuable life lessons to little kids. Also probably would have made future volunteering a bit difficult.

In any case, I’m actually considering a career with the library, which explains the volunteering. As far as I can tell, it seems like a pretty nice organisation, though I’m a little uncertain if I could fit into the backdrop of female motherly-figure-types.

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