Magazine article Information Today

Wiring a Nation for the Future: The Singapore Integrated Library Automation Service

Magazine article Information Today

Wiring a Nation for the Future: The Singapore Integrated Library Automation Service

Article excerpt

Imagine an entire nation on one bibliographic network with almost total participation by special, public, and government libraries, accomplished in under ten years. Despite many challenges, the nation of Singapore has created such a system, the Singapore Integrated Library Automation Service (SILAS).

Singapore is a city-state in Southeast Asia with a population of 2.69 million in an area of f239 square miles. Since its separation from Malaysia in 1965, the People's Action Party has governed, pursuing highly effective strategies in developing Singapore's economy.

Singapore's literacy rate approaches ninety percent, despite four official languages--English, Mandarin Chinese, Bahasa Malay, and Tamil. Singaporeans consider education very important and the government has made a strong commitment to developing the necessary manpower to support high technology industries.

Singapore is a unique case study of the automation process because of its size and the role played by the government. This article will describe the founding of SILAS, its current status and effects on Singaporean libraries as a whole, future prospects for SILAS, and what lessons can be drawn from Singapore's experience.

The History of SILAS

Library automation in Singapore had its beginnings in the 1970s, according to Lim Hong Too. A few individuals in the library world tried to rouse interest in their coworkers for the potential of computers. Several libraries conducted feasibility studies on automation, focusing mainly on accounting and listing systems. Due to the high cost of hardware and the lack of government support, little] came of these activities, although they undoubtedly raised awareness.

After 1979, there was a flurry of activity with four major libraries developing automation systems. A major reason for this was government support which had declared the introduction of high technology to be a government goal. The National Library developed Singapore's own machine-readable cataloging format. SINGMARC. All of these developments happened in isolation, without interlibrary cooperation.

This changed in 1982, with movement towards networking and cooperation. Two events in particular led to the formation of SILAS. The Library Association of Singapore proposed the establishment of a national bibliographic database and at the same time, the Ministry of Finance, which funds all government libraries including universities, received funding requests for several library automation projects. The Ministry was concerned over the lack of overall strategic planning and coordination in the process and directed its Computer Services Department (CSD) to study how the various plans could be coordinated.

The CSD report, endorsed by the government, suggested that a national bibliographic network be formed. Mr. Chris Hannan, former Executive Officer of the Australian Bibliographic Network (ABN), was hired as a consultant. His report recommended the purchase of Washington [now Western] Library Network (WLN) software, the same system used by ABN, and was accepted in March of 1984. Thereafter, the Ministry of Finance approved approximately 1.2 million U.S. dollars in support of the project.

By 1986 the software had been installed, a central office for SILAS had been created, and the National Library was up and running as a test. During this process, SILAS made the painful decision to abandon the SINGMARC format. While it was in many ways the best format for Singpore, compatibility with the outside world was considered more important. SILAS purchased all WLN records at this time, creating a large initial database. Mr. Bruce Royan, formerly with the Scottish Libraries Cooperative Automation Project, was hired as Director for the first three years of operation.

In 1987, nine more libraries joined. By this time, many had been using their own local systems. There were over 500,000 records to be converted to SILAS acceptable formats. …

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