Singapore Writers Festival honours Hedwig Anuar
Singapore Writers Festival honours Hedwig Anuar – pioneering educator, campaigner for women’s rights, and architect of Singapore’s library network. (Photo: SWF)

Singapore Writers Festival honours Hedwig Anuar

Meet librarian, archivist, educator and women’s rights advocate Hedwig Anuar, who will be honoured at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival with the Literary Pioneer Exhibition at the National Library Plaza.

In 1960, Hedwig was the first Singaporean to be appointed Director of the National Library, and it is a measure of her dynamism and brilliance that she got the top job just eight years into her career as a librarian. During her tenure she laid the foundation of the world-class library system Singapore boasts today, working tirelessly to inspire ordinary Singaporeans to re-imagine libraries as spaces for imagination, exploration and discovery.

Her first initiative as Director was a mobile service to put books into the hands of students in rural areas, getting the word out with mini-documentaries screened in cinemas. She also wrote and produced ‘Our Library’ – a weekly radio programme promoting literacy, literature and library services. In 1966 she started the Young People’s Service for library members in the 15–19 age group.

The Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award (HABA), presented biennially to a children’s book written by a Singapore citizen or PR, recognises her outstanding contribution to the promotion of books and reading for children.

Under Hedwig’s leadership, the library expanded from one branch to nine, making books readily accessible to people all over Singapore. Library membership shot up from 43,000 to 330,000. Other countries took note, and Hedwig’s success in engaging ordinary people with books and literature became a blueprint for the rest of Southeast Asia.

Determined to build up the library’s collection as new locations opened, Hedwig helped steer 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 rapidly growing collection, she initiated the Singapore National Bibliography.

Furthermore, she was Director of the National Archive and Records Centre from 1969 to 1978 and, after her retirement, was instrumental in the foundation of the National Book Development Council of Singapore – spearheading its WISH (Women Learning English) programme for older women.

Always a champion for women’s rights, Hedwig helped set up the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) in 1985 and served as its president from 1989 to 1991.

Hedwig was named ‘Woman of the Year’ in 1993 and was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014. She remained humble, telling one interviewer, “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.”

But the measure of her achievement was clear to W.L. Williamson, Head of the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Reviewing a collection of Hedwig’s papers and articles published in 1985 he called it, “proof-positive of the great progress made in Southeast Asia librarianship – a result that owes much to Anuar’s vision, energy, and leadership. The chapters on general topics – promotion of reading, children’s services, and the organisation of national library services – are important contributions with worldwide applications.”

The Literary Pioneer Exhibition created in Hedwig’s honour is the festival’s first open-air exhibition at the National Library Plaza. More details will be released soon, but in the meantime, mark your calendars for this extra special event running from 5 to 14 Nov.

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