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Friday, November 30, 2007

Closing of library@orchard

Locking the doors at 9pm
You can call a rose by any other name, and it will still smell the same. So it was with the library@orchard. After only eight years, it was closing -- or in its own words -- "moving on". As part of its final day festivities, the National Library Board threw a farewell party for staff, patrons and well-wishers. I attended as a well-wisher.

Dinner was provided, and if there's one thing the government does well, it's providing good food. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, most of it had been wiped out already. If there's one thing Singaporeans do well, it's eating. I consoled myself with a heaping of fried rice and pieces of teriyaki chicken.

Registration table
While eating, I walked around the library... yes, with food in hand. It felt liberating and a tad criminal to be eating in the library so blatantly. But it was allowed, and I wasn't going to argue with that.

I'd been to this particular branch less than 10 times in all. But it's my first time there that stands out. That was the time I learned that the library carried comics! And not just the Garfield or Far Side type, but actual DC/Marvel Superman/Batman/X-Men comics! That was mind blowing to me. From young, I had been taught by authorities that comics were detrimental to the learning mind. And now, comics were in the library, the repository of knowledge.

Band performance
It was getting difficult to walk and eat and manoeuvre around the other guests, so I just hung out at the Cafe Galilee area to watch the goings-on. Entertainment for the night was provided by two bands. I don't remember their names, but they sang the same kind of slow numbers that are suitable for hotel bars. It quite fit the mood of the evening, and also made everyone feel relaxed.

While mingling, I recognised a senior Media Development Authority executive. I nearly wanted to go up to him and sing, "Yes yes, y'all, we don't stop."

Masters of Ceremony
Things kicked off at 8pm with a music video produced by a friend. It was apparently inspired by my Firefox commercial, but I thought that it was only remotely inspired. The "kicker" was missing, resulting in just a feel-good montage of images.

By the way, it was interesting to me how this friend, who claimed that she hated the limelight, was thrust into prominence this evening. Not only did she make an appearance in her own video, she was also called upon to do an interview on-the-spot (to fill a gap in the proceedings). Oh yeah, and then she had to pull the rest of us into her limelight too.

There was also a prize presentation. Apparently, members of the public had been quizzed about library@orchard. Third prize: two iPod shuffles. Second prize: PlayStation Portable Slim. First prize: iPod nano. Who says the government ain't hip? I honestly expected something like book vouchers.

Dr Varaprasad, Chief Executive of National Library Board, delivering his speech
On another note, it felt weird and uncomfortable -- to me, anyway -- about how the MCs and Dr Prasad (chief executive of the National Library Board) were raving about the impact of blogging and "citizen bloggers" in chronicling the last days of the library. They went on and on as if blogging was the Second Coming and bloggers were the new "elites". It's not that I didn't enjoy the recognition. Rather, it was that they were rubbing it into the noses of non-bloggers that blogging was the wave of the future and "screw you" if you don't ride it. Like I said, it sounded elitist.

Two things that were cringe-worthy: people laughing hysterically at small jokes/asides by senior civil servants, and senior civil servants needing to be escorted to and from the podium. Oh, and one more thing: the loud, obnoxious music to fill the silent transitions.

I don't know who picked the music, but I'd blame RiTZ Events Asia for all of the technical screw-ups of the evening. During a band's performance, the microphone for the guitar suddenly stopped working. Then, during the music video, the music could barely be heard till about a minute into it. Finally, the video tribute to the bloggers (yes, there really was a video and it was bad!) wouldn't play, forcing the above-mentioned interview with my friend. RiTZ Events Asia, you suck!

Oh yeah, that blogger tribute video. Okay, it was a nice touch. But I generally lose interest in videos that rely on titling for 90% of the film. Video/film is a visual/audio medium. Why force your viewers to read??? Ever heard of "dialogue" or "voice over"? I'd rather read a PowerPoint presentation... actually, no, I wouldn't.

Library management leaving their mark
The library management was later invited to leave their messages and handprints. I suppose the display will be on show somewhere till the new libraries open up. I didn't get a chance to read the messages myself, but based on the few that were read out, they were the usual, politically correct, feel-good, warm and fuzzy lines.

The night's festivities ended with the final locking up of the library. There was the familiar "library is closing" tone and everyone was ushered out. Then, as photographers snapped away, the library staff locked the doors. Everyone clapped and cheered. And gave three cheers. I looked on amused. People were cheering over the end of a library? That sounded taboo in a society like Singapore's. As if people were happy to be losing a sanctuary of wisdom and research. It certainly didn't make sense to me.

I didn't stay long after that. Another friend had already left. He had waited nearly an hour for his photo, which had been taken by an official photographer, to be printed. Obviously, the Canon Selphy printers were never meant for mass printing. And points lost to the person who thought it'd be a good idea to use a consumer printer for an event like this. Never underestimate the impatience of middle aged women who want a photo that they will gawk over for three days before chucking it in the middle of an album that will remain as a dust collector.



Ivan Chew said...

Yeah, Jean was good wasn't she? So calm and articulate. She made it seem like NLB wrote the script for her (I swear we didn't!) lol

The blogger thingy... your perspective is interesting. Well I can assure you it isn't because we think blogging is the next big thing and that everyone should do it. It was really a heartfelt thank-you to the bloggers who volunteered. I mean, no government agency has done this before (i.e. let bloggers loose and not vet their posts!).

BTW, I was the one who did the blogger tribute video, heh. What can I say? I've got a lot to learn about making videos. But we wanted to do something to show the citizen reporters that we really appreciate them. Besides, powerpoint wasn't the same and can't be animated if we post to the net. The video is available at YouTube.

Anyway, thanks for attending the event. Glad you could be part of it. Cheers.

Yuhui said...

Hey Ivan,

Saw you walking around with your camcorder, and Jean trying to take a pic of you, ha. Not sure if you recognised me, heh.

To me, the blogger thank you's kept coming fast and furious, like it was rubbing it into everyone's noses. A little pacing would've been good. It could've been said once or twice and just move on.

As for the blogger tribute video, here's a suggestion: if you are rushed for time, use photos in the background and pan them across the screen, instead of using a black background. Take a look at documentaries, they have creative ways of presenting pictures.

And voice over can be recorded easily through your camcorder. I've done it before. It's not ideal, but for videos like these, it changes everything. Also, when you include voice over, you'll find that you can suddenly fill in a lot of empty spaces (which used to be filled with titles) with interesting visuals, which will make your video even more captivating.

Ivan Chew said...

OK I'll keep your suggestions in mind. I had 3 hours to put the video together, 'cos I spent a bit too much time than anticipated in editing the song. It's an original song done in collaboration with a friend, but I bet no one really noticed the song :)

Yuhui said...

Hehe, yeah, I didn't notice the music...

j said...

Hi there, appreciated your honest comments on the event, like Ivan said it's not that we were trying to rub blogging into people's faces but maybe the programme flow (MCs, speech + video) just amplified the blogging angle.

Personally, I'd be the 1st to have icky feelings about it, if it were some insidious gahmen effort to control/tame, brainwash or suck up to the blogosphere. Bleagh.

I felt that we had to thank them not out of necessity or even to rave about what fantastic bloggers or reporters they are, but simply bcos, the majority of Singaporeans wouldn't have bothered.

Anyway, abt the tech glitches, trust me, I'm just as annoyed!

Sorry for the long comment but I really think that if you ask any of the ground staff who have worked here, we certainly are not happy that the library is closing.

The library is a living thing not just some gahmen funded space where ppl get books nor some run-of-the-mill workspace full of cubicles and PCs.

It's formed by not just the books/materials but also the people who come here and the people who work here. For us (staff), the loss is of those relationships... And we'll have to keep on losing even after the closure to the public as we have to "tear down" with our own hands something we've built up over the years.

The cheers were for the library's existence, not its demise.

-perspective of Jillian, just a librarian, nope am not senior management (nor any form management in fact ;p)

Yuhui said...

Hey Jillian,

Thanks for your honest comments. It's great to hear from the ground staff. Yeah, I can only imagine how sad it must be for you to clear the library out. But at least you can be assured that the materials will continue to be available under new roofs.

As I said to Ivan, the thing about the blogging thing was that it had a very over-the-top, "OMG we couldn't have done this without you! *gush*" tone. It was so passionate that it came across as fake.

Anyway, all the best in your career! Maybe I'll see you at a library.

suan said...

i just adore 'FAR SIDE'. didn't know u read them too!

'a horse is a horse of course of course'....

Yuhui said...

Hey suan,

Yeah, I enjoy reading Far Side. I think the cartoonist's a genius for being able to see all of those angles.

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