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Monday, December 11, 2006

Look what's going on at public libraries

The other night at COLBAR we talked about how some of the articles in the newspaper here can be quite interesting. Here's an example from Sunday's Straits-Times:

By Melissa Sim

ONE man lay slumped on a sofa, his shoes off and his feet up on a coffee table, as he flipped through a book.

Another man whipped out a pair of tweezers and nonchalantly plucked at his stubble, dropping tiny hair strands on the newspaper he was reading.

No, these two were not relaxing at home. They were at the public library - and if one peeved library user had got his way, they would have been sent for etiquette classes.

In a letter to The Sunday Times last week, Mr Thomas Lee said uncouth acts such as people resting their feet on chairs, fiddling with their toes and nose-picking were common in libraries.

Apart from the fact that such actions are inconsiderate and rude, the investment officer wondered whether they were hygienic.

The Sunday Times visited four public libraries - the Central Lending Library in Victoria Street and libraries in Tampines, Woodlands and Bishan - and found plenty of proof to illustrate Mr Lee's point.

Library users, both young and old, were spotted sticking their fingers into their ears, removing the wax and flicking it onto the floor.

Others scratched their toes and armpits. Many were fond of taking off their shoes and putting their feet up.

When approached, most of them saw nothing wrong with their actions.

The man with the tweezers, spotted at Bishan Community Library, said grooming his stubble in public was a habit he had indulged in for the past 10 years.

At the same library, Mr Charles Cheong, 57, who is unemployed, reckoned he was being courteous by taking off his shoes before putting his feet up. 'To me, the library is a homely place. Maybe those who don't like what we do should be given a separate area of their own.'

Ms C. Yan, 23, who was studying at Tampines Regional Library with her feet on a chair, said: 'I want to be comfortable when I study.'

As far as polytechnic student Anisah Anis, 20, is concerned, Ms Yan's comfort comes at the expense of others. 'Children like to climb on sofas and put their faces on them,' she said.

The National Library Board (NLB) says that last year, there were more than 20 letters in various newspapers complaining about the lack of library etiquette among users, a threefold increase from the previous year.

NLB spokesman Kris Lim said it was difficult for library staff to police library users who, for example, picked their noses. But staff and volunteers do tell users not to remove their shoes.

Volunteer S. Sivakolunthu, who is in his 70s, said: 'Most of the time, it is out of habit that they put their feet up or pick their noses. When we appeal to them, they apologise and stop.'

Image consultant and founder of Imageworks Asia, Ms Christina Ong, attributes their actions to an inability to distinguish between private and public domains. She says it is a matter of upbringing too. 'We teach children to respect elders but we do not put so much value on consideration for others.'

It is a shame, says Mr Wong Chee Seng, 21, a Malaysian accounts assistant who lives and works here. 'Back home, the libraries are not as nice and not as clean. People should treasure what they have here,' he said.

'I think it's okay because I know my feet do not smell and there is nobody sitting in front of me.'
- MR DERRICK L, 24, wine consultant

'People may say I'm uncivilised, but comfort is most important when I am in the library.'
- MR CHARLES CHEONG, 57, unemployed

'I can't stand the sight of it. I think Singaporeans need to learn some basic social etiquette.'
- MR THOMAS LEE, 57, investment officer

'I don't know why people put their legs up on the chairs. I always teach my children not to do that.'
- MS S. CHANDRALEKHA, 28, housewife

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