After working 27 years at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Libraries, Mr Ng Kok Koon (’70) made a gift upon his retirement to establish the Tan Choon Kim Award in memory of his late mother. The gift gives professional library staff access to overseas conferences and training opportunities which, Mr Ng believes, are crucial to the development of good librarians.
Holding three Masters degrees – Masters in Music from Northwestern University, a Masters in Library Science and an MBA from the University of Chicago – Mr Ng was a unique NUS librarian of his time.
Despite discovering early on that he had misunderstood what being a librarian entails, Mr Ng went on to play a key role in many developmental milestones at the NUS Libraries. He shares the interesting journey with us.
You made a gift to establish the Tan Choon Kim Award in memory of your late mother. Could you share with us more about her and why you decided to establish the award in her name?
I established the award in her name as she is the closest person to me. She was the most supportive in the family when I decided to take up studies in music and library science. My mother had a career in teaching, just like my father, before becoming a housewife. My parents were very involved in education and my father gave generously of his time and money to schools.
What do you hope your gift will achieve?
I believe that professional library staff should widen their horizons through overseas training programmes and conferences. They should build strong networking bonds with librarians from other regions, learn good practices and exchange perspectives and, at the same time, spread the good name of the NUS Libraries. With this gift, I hope that they will have more opportunities to do so.
Could you share some highlights of your career?
I had the stereotypical idea of a good librarian then – one who loved books, just like me. Of course it turned out not to be true, as I realised after I joined the NUS Libraries in 1984. What makes a good librarian is the love of people, not books, and recognising that librarianship is first and foremost a service. It requires precision and timeliness as information is of no value if it is not provided at the time it is required.
In the early 1990s, I worked closely with Ms Sylvia Yap to set up OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue) before taking over the later developments. I also set up the Digital Services Division in 1998, which began the process of converting the library from print to electronic. We started with a small library portal and slowly added more functions and services. Eventually, the portal became not only the focal point for research but also enables users to pose enquiries to librarians and to request services from the library. The Division coordinated the e-collection across all the NUS Libraries and was one of the first libraries in the region to begin the digitisation of our own collection. It is still an ongoing process.
But I did end up with a dream job – which was to set up the Conservatory Music Library at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music from scratch. I worked very closely with the Conservatory on this project, and enjoyed the most challenging process, which was to build up the collection from ground zero.
What is the one message you would like to share with the staff who will benefit from this gift?
Be open-minded and make the most of the opportunities out there. Look out for available conferences and training and fight for it. Do not sit back passively. Let the world know that librarians are pro-active and assertive, not someone who buries his or her head in a pile of books.
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