Singapore libraries have a new remit: Equip seniors with digital skills

Singapore libraries have a new remit: Equip seniors with digital skills

The National Library Board will be developing a suite of digital readiness services to extend its reach to more than 300,000 Singaporeans over the next five years, of which 85 per cent will be adults and seniors.

SINGAPORE: Where the library used to be the place for book-lovers to go and explore new imaginary worlds, it is now being re-positioned to a destination for people to pick up digital skills – particularly the elderly.

A range of digital readiness and inclusion initiatives, with a specific focus on the seniors, were unveiled by the Ministry of Communications and Information during its Committee of Supply debate on Tuesday (Mar 6). This segment of the citizenry was highlighted as despite a significant increase in Internet usage by seniors aged 50 and above from 2012 to 2016, about 60 per cent of those aged 60 and above are not tapping on the World Wide Web yet, it said.

To address this, the Seniors Tech and Read service, piloted at Bedok Public Library last October, was one such scheme highlighted.

And this year, the National Library Board (NLB) will be offering TechShare, a tech showcase platform for senior citizens to try current and upcoming technology in a conducive environment. Essentially, it is a “tech playground” for them to try out gadgets such as robots, wearable smart home technologies and cashless machines and software.

These showcases will start with a regional library, tentatively in the third quarter of 2018, MCI added.

The NLB will also continue to partner the Infocommunications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) to deliver the Silver Infocomm Junction (SIJ) programmes at the libraries. These are senior-friendly infocomm learning hubs operated by voluntary welfare organisations, Community Clubs and non-profit organisations, the press release said.

Under IMDA’s Silver Infocomm Initiative, two avenues – digital clinics and experiential learning journeys – will be made available to the elderly to try their hand at technology.


MCI said the digital clinics are open to those aged 40 years and above, with volunteers providing one-on-one assistance with their mobile devices such as smartphones. To date, 10 sessions have been organised and these reached out to about 600 seniors, and the aim is to reach out to 2,000. 

These clinics will complement other programmes like the Basic Digital Skills introductory course, which was also revealed at COS.

The Basic Digital Skills’ curriculum include surfing the Internet and using chat apps and email, transacting digitally such as online shopping and electronic payments (e-payments), accessing e-Government services and staying safe online with basic literacy and cybersecurity knowledge. It will be offered at selected SIJs from the middle of this year.

As for experiential learning journeys, MCI said these will target seniors aged 50 and above who have not tried e-payments to go on a tour so they can get comfortable transacting using their mobile phones.

cashless payments 2
Scanning a hawker stall's QR code through the Liquid Pay mobile application. (Photo: Lianne Chia)

They will be accompanied by youth volunteers from the Youth Corps Singapore, who will guide them and introduce various aspects such as downloading banking apps, how to top-up their MRT cards electronically and paying using QR code, it added.

There will be 48 such journeys at six yet-to-be-determined locations that will be organised by IMDA, which is expected to benefit about 2,000 seniors. This offering will be available from mid-2018 onwards, the ministry said.


It’s not just the silver generation that the NLB is hoping to attract for its digital readiness programmes though.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, said in his speech on Tuesday that NLB is partnering Microsoft to organise competitions and workshops for the young, and events lined up include the National Digital Storytelling competition for secondary students in July where they can use interactive and multimedia elements offered at Bukit Panjang Public Library’s “Stories Come Alive” room to create their stories.

There will also be a NLB-Microsoft Artificial Intelligence hackathon for students from primary to tertiary levels to come together to help solve problem statements given by NLB, the press release said.

IDA Labs facility in Jurong
Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim (centre) at the Pixel Labs@NLB in Jurong Regional Library. (Photo: Calvin Hui)

Additionally, it is also adding to the number of libraries that will offer Pixel Labs@NLB that allows users to learn, create, invent and share skills using the tools, equipment and hardware kits there. Only Jurong and Tampines libraries have such a space currently, but one more will be opened up at the Woodlands branch this year, said Dr Yaacob.

The abovementioned initiatives are part of the suite of digital readiness services the NLB will develop so as to reach more than 300,000 Singaporeans over the next five years, of which 85 per cent will be adults and seniors. More than 6,000 programmes will be delivered at the libraries, MCI said.   

Dr Yaacob said while physical libraries' visitorship has "held steady", their digital reach has increased significantly. As of 2017, e-book loans have increased by 69 per cent and the NLB Mobile App has been accessed 3 million times since its launch in October 2016.

Source: CNA/kk