National Heritage Board and National Library Board: Both fighting to be stalwarts of ‘heritage’??

Nanyang Technological University is organising a Singapore Heritage Conference in Jan 2014 (click

This conference is endorsed by a few local institutions, including ministries and National Library Board. Funnily enough, National Heritage Board is not one of them. And if you click on the link above, you’ll see many foreign and local speakers, but only one is from National Heritage Board. Instead, National Library Board has two speakers (one of whom is the Chief Executive, signalling the highest involvement from NLB in the conference. On the other hand, I don’t see NHB CE Rosa’s name appearing here).

Is this a snub to NHB, and a signal that the Library Board is more of a ‘heritage’ stalwart than NHB? Considering its namesake, what kind of academic authority does NHB have, since it has less involvement than NLB in such a local heritage event (considering the ‘Library’ – not a specifically ‘heritage’ institution – has 2 speakers, and has endorsed the event while NHB has not)? Perhaps it would not be askew to see a paper presented in this conference on ‘National Heritage Board of Singapore: What is so ‘national’ about it, and what does it do for Singapore’s heritage?’. Like I said before, with NHB’s light touch on Singapore’s heritage and heavy emphasis on ‘museums’, perhaps it’s really time to rethink if it should be renamed ‘National Museums Board’…


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6 responses to “National Heritage Board and National Library Board: Both fighting to be stalwarts of ‘heritage’??

  1. Anonymous

    interesting post. curious why a deputy secretary of a transport ministry is chairing the keynote address though.

  2. Anonymous

    really agree with you on ‘NHB’s light touch on Singapore’s heritage and heavy emphasis on ‘museums’’. While working on a current story about Eurasians in Singapore, I had to work through a long process of calling corporate coms to community and outreach, only to realise that NHB has zero programs or information relating to this local ethnic community. When I asked about the various ethnic heritage centres, and the peranakan museums and why there isn’t a similar facility for the Eurasians. All they told me was that they were sponsoring a book about E.W. Barker. No research, no knowledge, and unfortunately, no interest in community heritage.

    • That’s the problem isn’t it? NHB’s resources are mostly spent on tangible stuff like museums and exhibitions, and that’s why NLB – with its vast store of books, newspapers and oral interviews – is better placed to deal with ‘intangible’ heritage like memories. So should NHB and NLB fight it out? If they do, will visitors/scholars benefit, or will we just have watered-down versions of what we expect a govt-funded heritage institution/s to do?

  3. Anonymous

    what do you think are the chances of NLB and NHB working out a real collaboration? this duplication has been going on for years. Who knows, statistically, NLB’s Singapore projects might outnumber NHB’s by now. Personally, I prefer NHB’s quality but they haven’t put out that many Singapore projects lately. I quite enjoy their heritage trails, great stuff to use in Oct when the weather turns cool.

  4. Anonymous

    How I see this phenomenon is more in the sense of how ‘heritage and culture’ lends legitimacy for an organisation’s claim to be relevant to the wider Singaporean community, similar to the ethnic or heritage revivalism movements experienced in many countries. Obviously, NLB is making a claim here via its active engagement with heritage causes; the aim is to increase its profile and representation among the numerous government bodies, and to muster a greater pot of government funding, well, all these at the expense of NHB, which is the organisation that is given the mandate by the government to foster heritage and culture. What I would like to see really is a clearer delineation of roles, such that each organisation will specialise to do what they are best in. So for NLB, rather than trying to do NHB’s job (and do doing a mediocre job of it), it should focus on improving the quality and accessibility of its library and archival resources (there are still plenty of things to do), while NHB should step up and do more for heritage research and promotion (not only on museums, but also more of grassroots, community and intangible heritage).

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