MOLLY- Mobile Library
National Library Board

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The early 1990s saw the growth of Singapore’s economy with multinational companies intensifying their use of technology while the service sector became an engine for growth. Realising that a key factor for economic success would be to tap on the human resource we had, so that the people could make productive use of information, knowledge and technology, the capacity to learn and provide resources for learning would be vital to keep the nation competitive, strong and prosperous. Since then, the government has geared policies towards the effective utilisation of knowledge and information for study, work and play and NLB has been poised to play a primary role to deliver knowledge and information to the people of Singapore. Despite the push towards providing affordable and accessible services to the masses, a few segments of the population have been identified as lagging behind because they lacked the basic literacy skills necessary to progress in a knowledge based economy. With that in mind, one of the key trusts of the National Library Board was the engage the disadvantage and the underserved and provide these groups of citizens with the a bridge, as such, the “Libraries for Life” initiative was identified as one of the main thrusts of Library 2010 strategic plan. The libraries in Singapore must remain relevant at every stage of a Singaporean’s life – from young to old, and to serve the unserved by broadening programmes, improve access to knowledge by leveraging IT. The population of Singapore as of June 2004 was 4.24 million. In 2005, 1.1 million were active members and users of library services out of the National Library Board membership of 1.84 million. That left 3.14 million of Singaporeans who did not visit the libraries and use the services. This means that the majority of Singaporeans, i.e. 74%, did not use the libraries. These included the underserved and the unreached. The underserved and unreached comprised of the following: • Low income group, where working parents are too busy carving out a living for their families and did not have time to bring their children to the libraries. • segments of the community with special needs, such as physical challenges • The elderly • Young children dependent on their parents to bring them to the libraries • Singaporeans who still find accessibility and convenience of valid concern. With this thrust, the National Library Board needed to re-invent itself to proactively reach out to these underserved and unreached by improving accessibility and convenience.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The mobile library bus services mainly special education schools and volunteer welfare organisations. The idea of a mobile bus was first introduced in 2008 with the aim of making library services more inclusive and accessible to those that are underserved. During the initial brainstorming phase, Several concepts on how to reach out to the underserved community were explored and identified. A review of the concepts concluded that the National Library Board needed to focus on the target audience that we want to reach out to. The identified target audience would primarily be: • Students in the Special Needs Schools • Residents in the Homes and Orphanages • Low-income groups These were groups were initially identified as unable to, or least likely to visit the libraries on their own. To effectively bring library services and programmes to them, the concept called for a mobile library bus. The mobile library bus was named MOLLY – a play on the words “mobile library” to give it a persona which would be easily identifiable and related to, especially among its targeted clientele. Thus, MOLLY the mobile library was born on 3 April 2008 and started as a community service project to bring library books and services such as story-telling, dramatization, and book talks to the underserved consisting of special needs schools, homes/orphanages. Back then, MOLLY was a prototype mobile library service that brought the library experience to the underserved to encourage them to become active users of the public libraries. The prototype mobile library comes in the form of a bus named “Molly, the Mobile Library”. The bus was outfitted with: • 3000 books • RFID Borrowing stations so that books can be issued in real time • Service counters for users • E-kiosks for performing library transactions such as payment, account checking etc Institutions and organisations such as children’s homes, orphanages, special education schools and selected primary schools are some of the places Molly will visit to promote reading and lifelong learning. NLB partnered with The Enterprise Challenge, SBS Transit Ltd, NEC Asia Pte Ltd, Advance Interactive Technologies Pte Ltd and Wavex Technologies Pte Ltd, to deliver the service Its objectives were and still are : 1. To reach out to the underserved community so that they too can enjoy discovering the joys of reading and finding out what other Singaporeans have been enjoying all this while; and also increase their opportunities of accessing information via electronic databases and developing a deeper love of reading and learning 2. To increase the awareness of what NLB can offer in terms of our collection, services and programmes offered by our network of public libraries; 3. To encourage and draw this group of potential patrons to become active users of public libraries in the long run as part of their lifelong learning journey. With clear objectives and target audience, MOLLY was able to respond to this need.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Moving from location to location within the country, and operating 7 days a week, MOLLY had to be able to operate on its own power and to provide online and real-time transactional services. The service reaches out to underserved groups with customised book selections during each visit, based on the user profile of the target audience at the destination. While onboard MOLLY, patrons can perform electronic transactions such as the borrowing of books, checking of personal loan information and payment of fees and charges via Ez-link (the nation’s stored valued public transport payment card). Where space is available on-site, a variety of programmes typically offered at public libraries will also be included in Molly’s visit to allow these underserved patrons to sample the library experience. These could consist of activity-based workshops such as art workshops and/or performance and edutainment such as story telling or other performances. The challenge in designing and transforming a regular bus into a Mobile Library was to outfit the bus such that it enabled the target audience to enjoy the same level of library experience and enjoyment that one would have when going to a regular library. Thus, the project team worked together to deliver a wireless-enabled Mobile Library with the following innovations. 1. To provide the same level of library experience, library equipment such as borrowing stations, eKiosk, RFID security gate and RFID bookdrop were installed. As in our brick-and-mortar library, the transactions had to be online and real-time. This would allow the user’s borrowing account to be updated instantaneously. For example, NLB’s library network allows a book borrowed from one branch to be returned at another branch, and the user’s account had to be is updated accordingly. The team developed a solution that used 3G mobile broadband connection at a time when such technology was not yet developed for use on a mobile library bus. 2. The team also developed an RFID bookdrop (a container that automatically cancelled loans when books were deposited in it) that is portable and light. It consists of 2 parts – a book container on the bottom half and a RFID antenna placed on top. The RFID antenna was customized and designed to be housed within 45.5cm by 35cm by 15cm and has both audible and visual indicators for when a loan is cancelled. The user will be able to enjoy similar experience by placing the book on top of the RFID antenna to have the loan cancelled and dropping it into the book container below. The first MOLLY bus that was launched on 3 April 2008 was decommissioned on 12 January 2012 having reached the bus’s serviceable life span of 20 years. The team then worked on and met the challenge for MOLLY 2 and designed an RFID bookdrop to fit within the space of the bus. This service would allow a user to drop in his/her books into a slot on the outside of the bus and the loans would be cancelled online and real-time.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The Concept for a Mobile Library Bus began in 2005. In 2006, sponsorship request was made to SBS Transit (local transport company) who agreed to sponsor a 15-year old bus that was going to be decommissioned. An extension was applied and approved for the lifespan of the bus to be extended to 20 years. Other sponsors subsequently came on board to provide the Radio Frequency software and hardware. In 2007, partial funding was obtained from The Enterprise Challenge (TEC) for the development of the Mobile Library Bus as a social experiment to reach out to the target audience identified. Development of the bus began right after and MOLLY the Mobile Library was launched on 3 April 2008 at Pathlight School, a Special Education School. With the knowledge that the first MOLLY which would have to be decommissioned on 12 January 2012, a review was conducted to continue this service to reach the underserved. The review paper called for MOLLY unit comprising of 1 big MOLLY and 2 smaller MOLLYs. In its 4 years of community service, MOLLY has made a tremendous impact measured by key performance indicators such as the number of loans and visitors, and written testimonials from key partners for the value of the mobile library service. For the 4 years, MOLLY achieved an estimated 470,000 loans and 230,000 visitorship. It received about 245 compliments. Due to the tremendous response to the first MOLLY, SBS Transit decided to continue its sponsorship with a 15-year old single-deck bus. This replacement bus, dubbed MOLLY 2, will continue to support library services till 2016 when it will have to be scrapped. In Feb 2012, MOLLY 2 was born. The target audiences remained the same. Active effort was continued to look for sponsors for 2 smaller MOLLYs. In 2013, sponsors came forward to fully fund the 2 smaller MOLLYs or as they are more fondly known mini-MOLLYs. The 2 mini-MOLLYs were launched on 8 April 2014. At the same time, the same sponsor had also decided to fund a new vehicle to replace MOLLY2 which will have to be scrapped in Feb 2016. To provide users with a holistic library experience, programmes onboard are conducted along with selected visits programming are conducted according to the following guidelines: a. Priority is given to children from special education schools, homes and orphanages, childcare centres and kindergartens. b. Programmes are selected and planned to initiate interactions, and stimulate imagination and interest in learning. c. Programmes, where possible, tie-in with the overall themes at the Public Libraries d. Programmes are conducted along with the mobile library visits and not independently on other days. This is to provide a holistic library experience. e. External programme partners (e.g. puppeteers) are included and appropriateness accessed based on: i. Age appropriateness ii. Prior experience performing for/handling children with special needs iii. Suitability of programme for a range of physical, intellectual and/or learning disabilities iv. Ability of partner to engage and interact with children with special needs v. Cost f. Sufficient information e.g. programme synopsis, are given to educators and caregivers in advance to affirm the suitability of a programme. Programmes are also conducted by librarians that include storytelling, stories & craft, book talks and library/reading workshops. MOLLY 2 also provides wheelchair access with a built-in ramp stored onboard the bus. This allows physically challenged children to access the bus safely. The mini-MOLLYs (the smaller buses) plug the service gaps that the big MOLLY is unable to fulfil because of space constraints at different sites where the big MOLLY is not able to access or move around. The advantage of the smaller mobile libraries is that a niche collection can be stocked more readily for targeted audiences which are the young children in childcare centres and kindergartens.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The Singapore Government and National Library Board serves the people of Singapore in their reading and lifelong learning objectives, which identified “Libraries for Life” as one of the main thrust for Libraries to remain relevant at every stage of a Singaporean’s life – from young to old, and to serve the unserved by broadening programmes, making IT more accessible and improving access to knowledge. Sponsors and partners that contributed to funding the initiative shared the objectives and the target audiences that the mobile library service was reaching out to. Whilst the SBS Transit sponsored the use of the first and second bus, other sponsors such as: • The Enterprise Challenge (TEC) helped to fund the outfitting of the bus. • Private sector companies such as NEC helped to design and supply the RFiD equipment that is used by MOLLY. • AIT sponsored the RFID hardware • Wavex Technologies worked on the software for the RFID equipment • Users of the Mobile Library services which include Special Education Schools, Homes and Orphanages, the childcare centres and kindergartens.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Sponsorship for MOLLY1 and MOLLY2 involved the provision of a used bus and RF software and hardware. Eight (8) iPads were donated by the Singapore Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SVCA), and were introduced to facilitate and enhance both reading and learning experience at the Special Education Schools. The 2 mini-MOLLYs were fully funded. This included the development cost of purchasing and fitting out the 2 vehicles, and subsequent operating cost for the next 5 years. The next MOLLY that will replace the current one to be decommissioned in Feb 2016 is also fully funded.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
MOLLY is considered a success because it helped to fill the gap that traditional libraries found difficult to meet. It allowed the National Library Board of Singapore to reach out to the underserved and help them enhance their reading and learning needs. The benefits are summarised below: • The demand for the mobile library buses exceeds the availability to meet the demand. The big Mobile Library Bus is currently operating 7 days a week, throughout the year with the exception of public holidays. The 2 mini-MOLLYs operate 5 days a week to meet the operating hours of the childcare centres and kindergartens being served. This shows that there is great demand for the molly to visit the underserved. • The service has been receiving a number of compliments and positive feedback from the users. Receiving a total of about 245 compliments to date. • Programmes are provided in consultation with the user groups as not all programmes are suitable across all user groups. Presently, user groups are satisfied with the programmes designed and delivered to MOLLY’s targeted customers. The challenge is to continue to source for the type and number of programmes that keep customers satisfied. • A survey was conducted in 2008 and the results were both positive and encouraging. (A summary of the survey results can be found under item 8) • The ability to provide online and real-time services in the Mobile Library outside of NLB premises and networks via wire connection using 3G mobile technology. This was achieved after several rounds of working together with the telco providers and testing.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
To monitor the response and progress of the mobile library service, a survey was conducted right after the launch of the first MOLLY. A qualitative cum quantitative study was conducted to obtain insights into how effective the mobile library service was and how the service could be better fine-tuned to fit the needs of the users. The quantitative survey were administered to teachers/caregivers and students/residents/children in the Special Education Schools. The qualitative interviews were conducted with principals and teachers/caregivers. The first field visit was conducted between 2 August and 30 August 08. The second field visit was conducted between 6 September 08 and 31 January 09. The respondents were from the Special Needs Schools, Homes/Orphanages, Primary Schools and the public at public events. The key objectives were : • To assess usage level of MOLLY since it was first launched • To evaluate satisfaction towards the services and facilities • To identify key drivers and motivation for usage • To assess the needs met by MOLLY and its value to users • To understand barriers towards usage • To pinpoint areas of improvements so as to further enhance the service Interest in MOLLY is evident as more than 50% express their satisfaction, likelihood to recommend and revisit MOLLY. Most also responded to say that they look forward to MOLLY and requested for an increase in the frequency of the visits. From the qualitative interviews, respondents mentioned the impact of MOLLY visits on social responsibility and reading behaviour. The key benefits are outlined below. • Respondents were developed a higher social awareness and responsibility • Respondents were more inclined to read the books they personally borrowed • Respondents felt that MOLLY opened up social interaction opportunities • There was a reported increase in sense of confidence and pride when MOLLY users got to select their own books • More reading was observed during Molly’s visits • Molly fulfilled its primary function as a library for the special needs institutions. As one decision-maker from a Home said, “Molly is the children’s main source of library books now.” Overall, MOLLY was well-received as can be seen in the positive comments below: • All had a favourable experience with MOLLY which brings about accessibility to a library, and serves as inspiration/encouragement to read. • MOLLY provided fun and enjoyment to Special Needs Schools where the students tend to love reading and say that they would want to visit the library more often. • Children in Homes are able to appreciate MOLLY. • MOLLY provides value add to the current school curriculum. It is seen as able to cultivate an interest in reading through its novel and new concept. The findings of a survey of the service commissioned by NLB also showed that MOLLY had a positive impact on reading behaviour (70% favourable) and willingness to use the public libraries (63% favourable). Educators also shared that Molly contributed towards students developing higher social awareness, greater responsibility (e.g. taking care of books borrowed) and better behaviour management. They also shared that the children were more inclined to read what they had personally borrowed. The service also opened up social interaction opportunities allowing students to interact with librarians and allowed them to familiarize them with the library experience resulting in a greater sense of pride

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Some of the challenges experienced were Wireless connectivity of MOLLY. This required many rounds and discussions held with the telco providers, and testing of signal strength was conducted at various sites. This was necessary to ensure online and real-time transactions are conducted successfully. There was the real possibility of very low take-up rate. This was mitigated through cold calls and sourcing, NLB managed to successfully the mobile library service and offerings. And was heartened to and encouraged to find that there was such a demand from the target audiences identified. There was the possibility of MOLLY being used to support other agendas. Thus the focus had to be constantly focused on reaching out to the disadvantaged and the underserved. The size of MOLLY and the space required for the bus to manoeuvre meant that the bus was not able to visit some venues.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The impact of MOLLY is highlighted in the points below: The key benefits resulting from this initiative is that MOLLY allowed the Singapore National Library Board to reach out to the underserved segments of the population. Students especially, those from special needs schools have reportedly felt a positive impact from the services provided by MOLLY. The provision of the bus filled a gap that was present when serving less mobile library users as well as those with special needs. The ability of the bus to reach them at their locations successfully managed to motivate and encourage the interest in reading. This can be seen in the feedback received from the survey where respondents shared that they enjoyed the visits by MOLLY and have benefitted from it. As mentioned above, National Library Board commissioned a survey to measure the effectiveness of MOLLY. From the results mentioned earlier in item 8 and from the many compliments and feedback received as follows, we can conclude that MOLLY has been successful in reaching out to the targeted user segments: • “Thank you to you and your team for making the effort to bring the mobile library down to our school and benefiting our students in so many ways” • “The library has already brought smiles to all the faces of the students who visited it. The teachers are even more excited than the students! We really appreciate you offering to help us with theme related books. I can assure you that the library is an amazing gift to helping bring learning to life for our special students.” • “It is a real pleasure and honour to have MOLLY and yourselves with us. The kids are so joyous and the fan club here is unstoppable.” • “Our Pathlight students are asking when is Molly coming – they can’t wait.” • “I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for bringing joy, happiness and knowledge to our home. Thank you very much.” • “I would like to thank you and your team for the wonderful experience you gave to our kids yesterday.” • “Molly’s visit really made our day!” • “There are lots of books in the Molly bus. The books look so brand new. There is lots of information for me. When I ask for something, I get a fast reply.” - Student • “Some of them have asked their parents to bring them to other libraries. They have become familiar with using a library card, the steps for borrowing.” • “Many pupils with special needs at LGS were not library members. Also their experiences were limited to the occasional visits to Queenstown Library. Through the collaboration, many of the pupils have become library members.” • “It really is a joy to see groups of pupils smiling as they board this adventure bus each time it comes.” • “The feedback received from our school staff has been positive. A variety of books were made available at the door-step and our pupils looked forward to go into the bus for the browsing and borrowing session. The school looks forward to another enriching experience with Molly library.” • “This year, Fernvale Gardens School has the privilege to collaborate with MOLLY to encourage our pupils to explore books and motivate the love for reading. Our pupils enjoyed visiting MOLLY as they browsed through different types of books. Our pupils learned responsibilities in looking after the books and also in returning the books on time.” • “The importance of reading cannot be overemphasized and indeed, Molly had provided an invitation for our students to pick up reading.” In terms of sustainability, MOLLY has also secured funding from sponsors that keeps MOLLY on the road for the next few years. The 2 mini-MOLLYs were fully funded, and this included the development cost of purchasing and fitting out the 2 vehicles, as well as on the road operating costs for the next 5 years. The next MOLLY that will replace the current one to be decommissioned in Feb 2016 is also fully funded.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
In addition to being sustainable due to the funds received from sponsors who support the idea of reaching out to the underserved The continual engagement with sponsors and potential sponsors has resulted in the full funding of the 2 min-MOLLYs and subsequently including the new replacement Mobile Library Vehicle to be ready in Jan 2016. The initiative is also transferable and many other agencies have visited MOLLY to see its operations and find out what has been done. One foreign agency has replicated the use of mobile library buses overseas to suit the needs and conditions in their countries. Several other public agencies have also replicated the use of mobile vehicles to reach out to various communities and showcase their own services.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The National Library Board has 25 library branches across the island. Yet this initiative has enabled NLB to extend its reach to those who can be better served through the Mobile Library Vehicles. The target audience was clearly identified and defined to be the Special Education Schools, the Homes and Orphanages, the low-income group, the childcare centres and kindergartens. The initiative has allowed these groups to enjoy the library services which they would otherwise be unable to on their own. It has shown us that these groups are just as important as those that visit the libraries on their own. The initiative has enabled the project team to work together and overcome the challenges. One challenge was to allow for all transactional services to be online and real-time, just like in any other physical library. Another was to ride on the 3G wireless broadband network to make the transactional services possible. As the intent was for the vehicles to be stationed at the visit site for 4 to 8 hours, it was not possible for operations to be conducted with the engines running or using the vehicle battery or keep the vehicle engine running constantly. Thus, it was necessary to provide sufficient power to power the bus’s air-conditioning, lights, IT equipment, and RF hardware. A separate built in generator had to be retrofitted into the bus’s design for the vehicles to be self-powered. These challenges took many discussions, developments and testing. On the whole, the challenges were overcome through hard work of the project team and lessons learnt were incorporated into the subsequent MOLLY designs.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   National Library Board
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Jasna Dhansukhlal
Title:   Assistant Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   65 6704 1101
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   278 Marine Parade Road #B1-01
Postal Code:   Singapore
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore

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