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How a Community Turned a Bookshelf into a Full-Fledged Library at Blk 2 Holland Ave – Mothership.SG

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What started as a small bookcase with some books has grown into a full-fledged library under Blk 2 Holland Avenue.

You only have to walk past it before you are curiously seduced by the lights and sprawling bookcases on the empty deck of this quintessential HDB condo.

Speak against MothershipHV Little Library founder Kae Chee shared how the community library under her block unexpectedly expanded from a small shelf of books.

Started with a personal collection of books

HV Little Library started on August 5, 2022 with just a small bookcase and some of Kae Chee’s own personal books.

Kae Chee’s brother-in-law donated the bookcase and spray painted it to make it look more attractive. She also printed her own homemade sign and bought some stickers to label the books.

The next day, Kae Chee came down and saw an empty shelf next to hers, so she filled it with more books.

In five months time, the library has stretched out over the empty deck.

Photo by Hannah Martens

HV Small Library

The library contains a wide variety of titles ranging from Chinese books to children’s books and numerous genres of English books.

Chests are filled to the brim with books, and tables are scattered across the empty deck for visitors to sit and read.

There is a certain rustic and homely charm to the place that draws people to it.

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Photo by Hannah Martens

Photo by Hannah Martens

Photo by Hannah Martens

Although she labeled all the books with stickers, visitors can take any book home at any time. Of course they have to return it after a while, but there is no one to check the book out.

The way the library expanded was unplanned, as Kae Chee described the expansion as something “organic”.

More than just a library

HV Little Library is run on a good faith basis, Kae Chee said.

Kae Chee explained that the library is not funded by anyone. Instead, it runs on donations.

From the wall decorations to books, everything in the library is given by residents who live nearby and even those who don’t live nearby.

The extensive collection of Chinese books was donated by someone who did not live in Holland Village. Instead, the 600 books came from a Toh Yi resident who heard about the library and wanted to support Kae Chee.

The plants that adorn the perimeter of the library were also kindly donated by local residents and visitors.

Some people also help tend and care for the plants.

Facebook photo of HV Little Library

The television in the library was also a donated item. A group of uncles in their 70s then offered to help set it up and hang it on the wall, Kae Chee said.

Photo by Hannah Martens

Those who donated books or shelves paid for the delivery costs, so Kae Chee didn’t have to pay for that.

“People give out of love, whether it be in money, effort or time,” said Kae Chee.

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The library is a collective effort and the community feeds it.

Troubleshooting

She received little support from the residents’ committee and not all residents are fans of this library, Kae Chee said.

Kae Chee has also received complaints about how the library is an “overkill” or a “fire hazard”.

However, she strives to keep the place as neat and clean as possible while serving the community.

When there was a leak in the area, Kae Chee made a device to contain the leak using an umbrella and a plastic bag to protect the donation area.

Photo by Hannah Martens

Since the lights would only come on at a certain time, she bought camping lights for the library to keep the area lit before the lights came on.

There are two rooms along the corridor: a pantry and a toilet. Kae Chee tidies the two rooms in her own time, stocking the space with snacks for customers and toilet paper in case someone needs to use the restroom.

Kae Chee said she doesn’t do this because she is very free, but she appreciates the “kampung spirit” in this library.

“It’s the gift of love, caring and selfless sharing,” she said.

An oasis

The library is an oasis, she described.

Through the library, Kae Chee got to know her neighbors around her and those who passed through the library. She always greets someone when they set foot in the library and welcomes them in return.

It is not only a place where people borrow and return books, but also a place where people come together and learn from each other.

For example, a sewing club was founded by a resident who teaches others basic sewing skills in the library.

Photo by Hannah Martens

When someone donated a table tennis table, a neighbor offered his service as a retired table tennis coach to teach anyone interested in the sport.

People who are part of this “kampung” also take care of each other and keep an eye on each other.

For example, when Kae Chee was sick, residents brought food to her door and checked on her to make sure she was okay.

When another resident became ill, Kae Chee and some neighbors kept an eye on the resident and even notified the resident’s children.

Photo by Hannah Martens

Kae Chee spends much of her time at HV Little Library.

She went to the library at least five times a day, and her son often jokes that his mother spends time in her “office”.

Now she has a “partner-in-crime”, Yun, who supports her and manages HV Little Library’s social media.

She said that while library maintenance is a non-stop affair, it is a happy problem for her.

“It’s for the residents and by the residents. Everyone comes along to enjoy it (sic)… It’s a place of giving,” said Kae Chee.

With HV Little Library, she hopes that young generations learn not only to love reading, but also to serve others in the community.

Top photos by Hannah Martens