One for the Books


A book placement system developed from scratch by SIT Community Service Club helped to complete the revamp of a community library.

Wander into the Whampoa Community Club and you might encounter an older person or two with his nose in a journal, or a detective thriller tucked under her arm. A child might be hugging a picture book as she walks away.

Chances are you have spotted patrons of Café Kawan, a casual drop-in space that is run by the Tsao Foundation’s Community for Successful Ageing (ComSA). Among the facilities at this gathering spot on the third floor is a community free library.

The community library is a well-cherished corner, receiving a regular bounty of donated books. The profusion of drop-offs, though, presented a bit of a puzzle — which book goes on which shelf? While avid readers could take their pick of titles and genres, it also made the browsing experience a little haphazard.


The jumble of books presented a challenge. (Photo: Geralyn Kwek)

Out of Sorts: New Shelves and Dishevelled Books

Enter SIT’s Community Service Club (CSC). A tip from the Student Life division led them to ComSA, who asked for help to develop a sorting system for the books. CSC President Geralyn Kwek reveals that getting the opportunity to do something for a wider pool of beneficiaries was a change from their usual engagements at nursing homes, “so we said yes!”.

Awaiting the team was a new set of shelves ready to be filled — and a glorious jumble of publications. As with all pre-loved items, some of them had seen better days; and what made the task even more daunting was the fact that none of the SITizens had any prior experience with library systems.

“You never know what you can do until you try,” said Geralyn, describing the endeavour as fresh and exciting. With her like-minded team-mates, she wasted no time to understand the job at hand and started to make plans. Brainstorming resulted in an easy, low-tech solution which the library would be able to maintain -- stickers!

Getting Stuck Right In

State-of-the-art digital systems, a strict adherence to the Dewey Decimal system (a classification system used by libraries to arrange books via subject) for a professional library are fine. For a rustic library such as Café Kawan’s, organisation would take the form of something more intuitive and sustainable to its community of users. Coloured stickers, the team agreed, were a good answer.

Deciding what categories to create was tricky. The youths put their sorting hats on and started by dividing the books by language, then grouping them by genre. Along the way, they became painfully aware that their reading fluency in their respective mother tongues was not entirely serviceable — and if their dedication to the library’s cause led to long hours screening books, this was surely a contributing factor. Indeed, the translation apps they used may have been as high-tech as the sorting process went.


The team put on their sorting hats and started dividing the books according to language, then genre. (Photo: Geralyn Kwek)

Nevertheless, over just seven days in August 2021 — within the trimester break — the group of seven volunteers managed to work through a couple of hundred books for the library. Extra hours were par for the course, but their enthusiasm never waned.

All in Place

Eventually, whether a book was in English, Chinese, Malay or Tamil; covered horror, education or romance (to name a few genres), each book found its home within a classification, and got a sticker of its own. The different-coloured labels make them easy to recognise. It is now a breeze to sort and place them on the right shelves. The team has implemented a system they are all proud of.


Smiles (behind the mask) with every book in its rightful place. (Photo: Geralyn Kwek)

The Café Kawan library reopened soon after CSC’s service learning project. Visitors today, young and old, are impressed by the tidily-arrayed tomes. As for keeping them organised, well, that’s all sorted.

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