Pioneering librarian and women’s rights advocate
Just eight years after starting her career as a librarian in 1952, Hedwig Anuar was appointed Director of the National Library, a position she held until her retirement in 1988. She was the first Singaporean to be appointed to the job, and during her tenure she laid the foundations for the modern library system that Singapore now enjoys.
Born in Johor, Malaysia, to a father who was a teacher and principal, Hedwig grew up surrounded by books. The family moved to Singapore when Hedwig was a teenager. When the Japanese Occupation interrupted her studies at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, Hedwig turned to self-study. To keep themselves busy, she and some friends started a newsletter called The Thoughts of Youth.
In 1951, Hedwig graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from University of Malaya, Singapore, and in 1958 became the first local woman to obtain the highest librarianship qualification - Fellowship of the Library Association, London.
Soon after she became Director of the National Library, Hedwig introduced a mobile library service which brought books and other publications to students in rural areas. To promote the service, she had mini documentaries about it screened in the cinemas.
She also started ‘Our Library’, a weekly programme on the radio, to introduce and promote what was available in the library. She wrote and produced the programme herself. In 1966 she started the Young People’s Service for library members in the 15-19 age group.
Under her pioneering 28-year leadership, the library grew from having just one branch to nine branches, and membership increased from 43,000 to 330,000. Hedwig was also Director of the National Archive and Records Centre from 1969 to 1978.
After her retirement, Hedwig continued to be involved with literary and civic society spheres in her work with the National Book Development Council of Singapore and with women’s rights advocacy group, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). She was a founder member of AWARE in 1985 and its president from 1989 to 1991.
In 1985 she was also a founder member of Society for Reading and Literacy, and in 1989 she started the Society’s WISH (Women Learning English) programme for older women.
Hedwig received the Public Administration Gold Medal in 1969. Her other awards and honours include receiving Honorary Life Membership of Persatuan Perpustakaan Malaysia in 1973, being named Her World's "Woman Of The Year" in 1993, and getting the Library Association of Singapore Lifetime Contribution Award in 2007.
"I don’t claim to represent everyone else […] I don’t believe in role models because each person has a different life, each person faces different challenges."