A Case study on how the National Library Board of Singapore has been deliberate in its strategic creation of symbiotic linkages between the work, home and community. Their intention has always been more than creating a place to check out books.
Beginning in 1992, the Singapore National Library Board (NLB) was not only tasked with revamping the library system in order to boost efficiency, but to also create a vision in which the library could act as a catalyst in creating a cultural shift in Singapore.This case study examines the different paths they took to accomplish their mission. In each of the following examples of different types of innovation, there is evidence of the creative process, distinctiveness, and impact.
The NLB leadership understood the library was much more than a room full of books. That said, they devised services, special facilities, and collections as the platform for fresh insights, self-discovery, and engaging interactions to make the library the catalyst for innovative learning experiences. They created distinct offerings such as libraries in shopping malls (library@orchard), which were much more visible to the everyday citizen. They even created library services that were available through short messaging services (SMS) on a cell phone in order to streamline processes and make services even more readily available. And the impact of these actions has been substantial. In 2001 alone, the NLB made 25,034,444 loans in a country where the population is only slightly more than four million people. Their membership has risen more than 12 percent since 1998, with a similar 12 percent increase in annual visitors.
Queues at the NLB were always long, but it was stated several years ago that if a system were not set in place immediately, queues today could be upwards of four hours long. They understood that as imperative as it was to come up with new insights for inciting a societal cultural change, they had to undergo an internal restructuring first. The process they adopted was two-pronged—developing a coordinated national collection process while streamlining many of their backend processes. Working with industry partners, the NLB deployed the use of Radio Frequency Identification Technology for the world’s first Electronic Library Management System, which was later awarded a patent for being a revolutionary system for library automation. The impact of removing book stamping and fine collecting at the counters has saved more than $50 million per year in staff wages. The NLB has also implemented several other process innovations such as sophisticated integration of their back-end HR and finance systems that have since eliminated more than 40,000 forms and save more than $6 million in man-hours each year.
Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I can see farther than other men, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” The NLB has been able to capture that very essence. Being in a small nation like Singapore, they understood they needed to assume a creative process that allowed for adaptability and evolution. They began to grow and leverage various local and international partnerships and collaborators such as the Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians (CONSAL), the Russian State Library, and the Singapore Management University. This has enabled them to create a more diverse and robust offering to their members. Because the libraries’ collection now traverses the boundaries of the nation, the NLB took the next step to develop the eLibrary Hub to serve as a one-stop, all-inclusive digital library accessible from anywhere with Internet access. This transformation has had a significant impact on society. Through the network of borderless libraries, Singaporeans have access to information from a greater multitude of resources always close at hand.
The NLB has been deliberate in its strategic creation of symbiotic linkages between the work, home and community. Their intention has always been more than creating a place to check out books. Instead the mission has been to create a lifestyle product that is fully ingrained into society. Through the creative process of co-locating in the community, they have been able to create “Lifestyle” libraries with an image that depicts a character of both convenience and fun while maintaining learning at the core. And even though this is a long-term mission for the NLB, signs of success have already begun to manifest: Half of all Singaporeans are members. Even more impressive is that the Lifestyle library is the country’s third most popular destination after school/office and home.
Being innovative should not be such an impossible quest, and it isn’t as long as it is woven in as an integral part of the organizational culture and leadership vision. An eye for innovation cannot be just at the top ranks of the organization, nor can it only be at the bottom. In order to incite a successful culture of innovation, it is important that everyone associated with the organization—employees and outside partners alike— understand and apply a meaningful, consistent framework for assessing innovation in their work.