Amongst the National Library’s many collections is our photographs collection, which includes photographs and images that are related to Singapore. This guide will explain how to access the Library and Archives’ extensive image collections through our search engines and handy online platforms like PictureSG and Archives Online.
PictureSG (eresources.nlb.gov/pictures) is a digital depository of photographs and images related to Singapore’s social history and development. PictureSG has over 36,000 digitised pictures, including photos and artwork, related to Singapore. These pictures come from the National Library Board’s (NLB) own collection as well as pictures donated to NLB and those contributed by NLB’s partners. Featured collections include the Lee Kip Lin, Kouo Shang-wei, The Substation, and COVID-19 collections – just to name a few.
To perform a keyword search, simply click on the magnifying glass on the top right of the screen. This will cause a search bar to appear.
Tip: To find images from a particular year or time period, try typing in the year or decade, e.g. ‘1968’, ‘1890s’, in the search bar.
You may also choose to view images by Collection or Category, which can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the PictureSG homepage. From here, select the collection or subject category of your choice to browse the relevant images.
Some photographs on PictureSG will have a ‘Suggested Pictures’ section to facilitate further exploration. These pictures can come from the National Library’s Collection or the National Archives of Singapore (NAS). For images from NAS, clicking on the image will direct you to the image’s item description page on Archives Online.
The National Archives of Singapore (NAS) is the keeper of records of national significance. The records acquired by NAS come from both public agencies and private sources. Its collection ranges from government files, private memoirs, historical maps and photographs to oral history interviews and audio-visual materials.
Archives Online allows users to seamlessly search information across NAS’ various independent databases and view selected photographs, maps and plans, listen to oral history interview samplers and watch snippets of audio-visual recordings.
Navigating Archives Online
Using the searchbar at the centre of the Archives Online homepage, you can perform a simple keyword search to locate archival images. To only search for photographs, click on the photograph category below.
Doing so will direct you the photographs search engine. The main advantage of using this search engine is the item filter, where users can choose to filter out aerial photos.
Many of these aerial photos were taken by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in the 1950s and 1970s, and can potentially overwhelm your search results if you search for a local place name (e.g. Bukit Timah)!
For the above example, let’s look for historical photographs of Masjid Bencoolen, also referred to historically as the ‘Bencoolen Mosque’. The search has returned two results, one of which is an aerial photograph. Click on any image to continue.
You will then be directed to the item description page. Information on the image record, such as its digital preview (if applicable), covering date and accession number, can be found here. Related results from Archives Online and the National Library collection may also be found on the right.
Alternatively, users may choose to search for images from Singapore via the NLB OneSearch website. This method will retrieve records from NLB’s collection, including digitised images from the National Archives of Singapore, where digital previews are available and can be accessed anywhere from your internet-enabled personal devices.
Step 1: On the OneSearch homepage, click on Advanced Search. This is found at the bottom right corner of the search bar.
Step 2: From here, conduct a keyword search and filter by images. You may also choose to filter by creator. This method is best if you know the exact title or content of the image.
For this example, we search for photographs of the Singapore Volunteer Corps using the keywords, ‘Singapore Volunteer Corps’ under keywords. Once done, click Search.
Step 3: On the search results page, look to the left side of the screen to the refine search tab. As you can see, you may further narrow your result by material type, collection, language and date.
Step 4: Image retrieval. Let’s take a closer look at two of our search results.
The first result directs us to BookSG, an online collection of digitised books and printed materials, including rare and historical imprints related to Singapore and Southeast Asia from the National Library and its partner institutions.
It turns out our photograph is extracted from a book, Our Security, 1819-1969: nation-building through service in the armed forces and police. By clicking on the title, users will be directed to the NLB catalogue where the book’s Call Number will be available. Users can consult the physical book at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.
Here, the image has been digitised for viewing online. Related results can also be found on the right.
Locating images on the NLB Catalogue
Alternatively, images can also be located on the NLB Catalogue. Typically, these are denoted by [picture] in the title description.
Step 1: Click on the Advanced Search on the NLB Catalogue homepage. This is found on the bottom right corner of the search bar.
Step 2: Using the Anywhere filter, type in ‘Singapore’ to limit your search to materials from Singapore. Under Material Type, scroll down and select Picture Collection.
At this stage, you can click Search to browse all available images on the Catalogue. However, if you have a specific subject in mind, you can narrow down your search using the Title and Author filter. You may also narrow your search by year or by language.
Step 3: If there are records matching your keywords in our collection, you will then be directed to this search results page. Otherwise, consider using different keywords and simplifying your search terms.
Once you have located the record entry of choice, click on the item to be directed to the item description page.
Step 4: At the item description page, click on View Availability. Note down the Title and Call Number.
The images located using this method will not have digital previews. To view the images, you will need to request retrieval of the image record from the Counter on Level 11 of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.
This concludes our step-by-step guide. Should you run into any issues, please approach our library staff for further assistance.