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Literary Arts

Hedwig Anuar

Pioneering Singapore librarian, archivist, educator and campaigner for women’s rights.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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I don't claim to represent everyone else […] I don't believe in role models because each person has a different life, each person faces different challenges.

Hedwig Anuar is a pioneering Singapore librarian, archivist, educator and campaigner for women’s rights. Her significant and influential career as the first Singaporean director of the National Library laid the foundations for a modern library system, and resulted in the expansion of the library network across Singapore, making books readily accessible to larger numbers of Singaporeans over the years. She also served as the chairman of the National Book Development Council of Singapore. Anuar received the Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Emas) (Public Administration Medal [Gold]) in 1969 for her contributions to libraries in Singapore. In 2007, she received the Lifetime Contribution Award from the Library Association of Singapore.

Born in Johor, Malaysia in 1928, Hedwig Anuar received her early education in Johor, before moving with her family to Singapore, continuing her education at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. Anuar’s father was a teacher and a school principal, which meant that their home was filled with books. With the influence of her father and the abundance of a wide variety of books at home, Anuar became a self-confessed bookworm.

Anuar’s studies were interrupted during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, and she relied on self-study during the period. Wanting to do something useful and related to her passion, she started a newsletter together with like-minded friends titled The Thoughts of Youth and also self-published a magazine titled Light. Anuar also tutored English and worked as a relief teacher during the war.

After the war, Anuar pursued pure arts at Raffles College and went on to receive a Honours degree in English Literature at the University of Malaya, Singapore. With her passion guiding her, Anuar started working as a library assistant at the university’s library from 1952, taking the first step in what would be a significant library career. Three years later, she went to the UK to study llibrarianship at the Northwestern Polytechnic University in London, eventually receiving a Fellowship of the Library Association.

Finished with her studies, Anuar became an assistant librarian at the University of Malaya Library in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1959. The following year, she was seconded to Singapore to become the director of the National Library of Singapore, and was tasked to move the library from its then premises at the Raffles Library and Museum to its new location nearby on Stamford Road. Completing that, she returned to the University of Malaya Library, and would return to Singapore to again be the director of the National Library in May 1965, continuing a significant library career that would last almost three decades long.

The first Singaporean director of the National Library, Anuar’s impact and influence on libraries in Singapore cannot be understated. Under her care, the National Library saw developments in all aspects of librarianship in Singapore. In the first year of her service, Anuar started the Mobile Library Service to bring library books and services to students across the island in rural districts who had no easy access to National Library. To promote the service, she had short documentaries on the Mobile Library Service screened regularly in cinemas. In 1966, Anuar pushed her efforts for young readers further with the Young People’s Service, in order to promote and encourage readership among the young in Singapore.

Anuar personally scripted and produced a weekly Radio Singapore magazine programme called Our Library to introduce and promote what the library had to offer. She also wrote book reviews and press releases to promote new books and library services. Determined to build up the library’s collection, she helped implement the Printers and Publishers Act to ensure that copies of all new published material would be deposited with the library. To keep track of the library’s quickly expanding collection, Anuar initiated the Singapore National Bibliography.

Anuar’s efforts throughout the decades modernised the Singapore library system greatly. With Anuar at the helm, the library network expanded from a single library to nine libraries situated around Singapore. Library books and services became much more easily available and accessible to Singaporeans of all walks of life. This readily available wealth of knowledge contributed significantly to increasing the literacy of a young nation.

Throughout her library career, she also published over 100 articles, reports and conference papers, including the paper Blueprint for Public Library Development in Melaysia in 1968.

For her contributions to libraries in Singapore, Anuar received the Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Emas) (Public Administration Medal [Gold]) in 1969. She also received a Honorary Life Membership from the Persatuan Perpustakaan Malaysia (Librarians Association of Malaysia) in 1973. In 2007, she received the Lifetime Contribution Award from the Library Association of Singapore.

Besides her work with the National Library, Anuar also was an instrumental figure in the establishment of the National Book Development Council of Singapore. She would go on to first be an honorary secretary for the council and then its chairman. In honour of her services and efforts in promoting child literacy, the council established the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award in 2011 to promote children’s literature in Singapore.

Anuar was also a founding member of the Association of Women for Research and Action (AWARE), with which she served as president. For her pioneering efforts and involvement in women’s issues, she received the Woman of the Year award in 1993 from Her World magazine.

In 1988, Anuar officially retired from librarianship, but she carried with her efforts to increase literacy skills among Singaporeans. In 1989, she initiated the Women Learning English (WISH) programme for older women with the Society for Reading and Literacy, of which she was a founding member in 1985. She also became a member of the Publications Advisory Panel with the Ministry of Information and the Arts in 1992.

Currently, Anuar spends her free time writing a history of her family.

Timeline

19 Nov 1928

Born in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

1934 to 1936

Attended Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

1937

Moved to Singapore with family.

1937 to 1941

Attended Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Singapore. Studies disrupted by Japanese Occupation.

1946

Attended Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Singapore.

1947 to 1950

Attended Raffles College, Singapore.

1950 to 1951

Attended University of Malaya, Singapore. Graduated with BA (Honours) in English Literature.

1952

Library Assistant, University of Malaya Library, Singapore.

1955 to 1957

Attended School of Librarianship, Northwestern Polytechnic University, London, UK.

1956

Received Associate of the Library Association, UK.

1958

Received Fellowship of the Library Association, UK.

1959

Moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1959 to 1960

Assistant Librarian, University of Malaya Library, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Apr 1960 to Jun 1961

Director, National Library, Singapore. On secondment from University of Malaya Library, Malaysia.

1961 to 1962

Assistant Librarian, University of Malaya Library, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

1962 to 1964

Assistant Director (supernumerary), National Library, Singapore.

21 May 1965 to Mar 1968

Director, National Library, Singapore. On contract.

1968

Published Blueprint for Public Library Development in Malaysia.

Apr 1968 to 1988

Director, National Library, Singapore.

7 Feb 1969 to 6 Feb 1978

Director, National Archive and Records Centre, Singapore.

1969 to Mar 1980

Honorary Secretary, National Book Development Council of Singapore.

1969

Received the Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Emas) (Public Administration Medal [Gold]).

1973

Received Honorary Life Membership, Persatuan Perpustakaan Malaysia (Librarians Association of Malaysia).

1985

Published Issues in Southeast Asian Librarianship: A Selection of Papers and Articles.
Founding member, Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).
Founding member, Society for Reading and Literacy.

1987

Published Libraries in Asia with co-author Richard Krzys.

1989

Initiated the Women Learning English (WISH) Programme for older women with Society for Reading and Literacy.

1989 to 1991

President, AWARE.

1993

Received Woman of the Year Award, Her World.

1998

Published book How I became AWARE.

1999

Published poetry collection Under the Apple Tree: Political Parodies of the 1950s.

2007

Received Lifetime Contribution Award, Library Association of Singapore.

2011

Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award established, National Book Development Council of Singapore.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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