Before independence, most of Singapore’s population was illiterate because, as former Minister for Education Dr Goh Keng Swee said,
“the colonial government did not feel any responsibility to provide universal education. Hence education was the privilege of a minority of families who could afford to send their children to school.”
After Singapore achieved self-governance in 1959, more schools were built and #SingaporesFirst mobile library service (aka “Molly”) was launched by National Library Board, Singapore in 1960, to spread the reading habit by making books accessible to all across Singapore.
The first Molly was repurposed from an old army vehicle, sponsored by UNESCO. The team running Molly was small (only 3 people!) but they brought books in all four official languages. By the end of Sep 1960, the mobile libraries had made 37 visits to primary schools and attracted nearly 2,300 children to join as library members. Molly’s services continued to expand until the 1980s, when most neighbourhoods got their own public library. Molly buses were then gradually phased out.
In 2008, Molly made a comeback, to cater to those with difficulty accessing public libraries. Within a year, Molly buses had visited 17 special-needs schools, 16 children’s homes and orphanages, and 30 primary schools, welcoming over 45,000 visitors onboard.
Molly buses continue to travel across Singapore today, so that people, from literally all walks of life, can enjoy the company of books.