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Centres of calculation and unruly colonists: the colonial library in Singapore and its users, 1874‐1900

Brendan Luyt (School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




The purpose of this paper is to show how the library management of the Raffles Library and Museum (the former name of the National Library of Singapore) positioned the library in relation to the wider colonial society of which it was a part. More widely, the aim is to explore the role of libraries within a colonial setting.


The paper takes the form of historical research using archival materials.


The paper finds that the Raffles Library and Museum responded to the needs of two kinds of users: the potentially wayward colonist in need of “wholesome” recreation and the scientist/scholar involved in making Singapore a regional centre for the production of colonial knowledge.


While knowledge‐producing institutions such as botanical gardens, zoological parks, museums of natural and human history, as well as anthropological and geographical societies now feature prominently in discussions of British colonialism, the colonial library has been overlooked. This paper represents a start at bringing the colonial library into focus as an institutional node designed to sustain colonial endeavors.



Luyt, B. (2008), "Centres of calculation and unruly colonists: the colonial library in Singapore and its users, 1874‐1900", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 64 No. 3, pp. 386-396.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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