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Friday, 30 November 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.