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Singaporeans Rediscovering Reading: Library Borrowing Going Up

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Reading is one of the best hobbies that one can have. Some of the most revered people around the world, including billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates, choose to spend their free time with a good book. Gates said once in an interview that reading has been essential to his success. Books spark his curiosity, which leads him to do the wonderful things he did throughout his career in tech and, eventually, his foundation (which he runs with his wife, former general manager at Microsoft Melinda Gates).

Reading has been proven to strengthen the brain, build a person’s vocabulary, reduce stress, alleviate symptoms of depression, and increase one’s ability to empathise. There is even evidence that those who read will likely live longer.

The benefits are clear, but not everyone enjoys reading. Even in Singapore, where access to a diverse selection of books is easy, reading is not a hobby that everyone engages with.

Readers in Singapore: A Dying Breed?

Singapore’s efficient education system ensures that the majority of its nearly 5.9 million population can read. At an early age, children are taught how to read. Children’s books are abundant. The curriculum in school in the city-state also assigns literary books every year for the students to read.

Yet, between March 2014 and March 2015, more than half of Singaporeans said they have not read a book in the past 12 months. The survey was conducted by the National Arts Council (NAC). It asked over a thousand permanent residents.

Of those who have admitted that they have not read a book for a year before the survey, 48.9% said they have no time. Another 48.9% said they were not interested in the activity. Others have either work or family commitments to attend to. Some enjoy other hobbies. A handful cannot afford books.

Another survey, this time by the National Library Board (NLB), found that adults were more likely to watch television in their spare time rather than read a book. The results, which were released in 2017, revealed that the older a person gets, the less likely they are to pick up a book to read.

young boy reading a book on the bed

Singaporeans’ Love for Reading Flourishing

However, the youth seems to be more attracted to reading books compared to their parents and grandparents. The follow-up survey conducted in 2018 by the NLB revealed that more people are reading not just books but magazines and newspapers, too. Both print and digital formats are popular.

The e-loans of reading materials from NLB reached 3 million in 2018. For comparison, in 2017, only about 1.5 million e-loans were made.

The surge of e-loans is attributed to the prevalence of electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets. As more people have access to these gadgets, they are more likely to check out reading material in digital format.

Pandemic Boosts Love of Reading

The increasing demand for reading materials in Singapore peaked in 2020. When everyone was locked inside their doors for safety during the pandemic, more people found themselves having the time to read. The number of e-loans for the past year surged significantly.

With restaurants limiting capacity and as people stay in to follow social distancing rules, Singaporeans started cooking. That is why cookbooks were among the most popular categories among borrowers.

Others, however, chose to learn about the history of Singapore. Between April 7 and May 3, Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiography was borrowed 1,605 times.

However, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone took the crown as the most in-demand book for readers in Singapore during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the NLB, it was checked out 3,200 times within the span of one month.

Singapore’s reading community may have dipped in the past, but its numbers are growing once again as more people discover the joy of the written word. The pandemic has only accelerated the increasing love that the public has for reading good books.

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