The purpose of this article is to examine the inter‐war history of the Raffles Library in Singapore with the aim of understanding what the management of the library believed its role should be as well as the role others in that society considered that it should fulfill.
The article is based on historical research using archival sources.
To a great extent the management of the library narrowly construed the institution's mission in terms of appealing to that class of persons likely to become paying members – that is, the European elite and its high‐level local collaborators. Financial constraints, relations between the library and museum as well as prevalent negative attitudes regarding class and race in colonial society are likely reasons for the lack of sustained attention to non‐European populations.
The library history of much of Asia remains relatively unexplored, especially from a viewpoint that stresses the importance of social context to library structure and operation.
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