The right to doze off in the library

From ‘Caught napping in the library’, 15 May 2011, article by Ng Huiwen in Sunday Times

…Recently, a photo of two girls dozing on sofa seats at the National Library in Victoria Street was posted on The Straits Times’ citizen journalism website Stomp.The Stomper, who goes by the moniker Alan, said the pair were ‘sleeping soundly’ though there were ‘so many other library users’, adding that he was surprised the library’s staff did not intervene.

…(MS VINDA TIRRANA): ‘If the library is crowded, people who need the seats to read their books can’t get them if there are people sleeping. I’ve even seen those who snore so loudly that it disturbs others.’

…(HUANG JING QUAN):’I don’t see it as hogging the seats because it’s within my rights to take a break.’

Read it and sleep

It’s debatable if sleeping on a library seat, itself intended for free public usage unlike seats at an eatery where operation costs are involved, is considered inconsiderate behaviour. It may look ugly and sloppy, but the seat is unavailable anyway whether it’s used for a snooze, staring into thin air, homework, serious research or ploughing through a thick novel from start to finish, because there is no obligation on the user to give it up to others. Even if you put up ‘No sleeping!’ signs or hire staff just to prod sleepers in the ribs, you don’t have good enough reason to shoo them out of the premises if their snoozing, as they may claim,  is purely involuntary and are not causing unnecessary distress to fellow users. In fact, having a sound sleeper next to you while you’re studying for exams is a confidence booster, and you won’t have to deal with annoying tics like pen tappings, knee shaking or noisy sliding of highlighters.

The issue really, is not the lack of seats, but the inaccessibility to material held but not yet borrowed by the sleeper. In fact sleeping with an unused book is more offensive than ‘hogging’ it, especially if you’ve spent the last few months on the Reserved listing, only to see someone clutching onto your object of desire while in dreamland, like an camel huddling over the last vial of water in the desert when it has absolutely no motivation to drink from it.  So imagine the agony of wanting to see horse racing results only to find the last copy of the Sports section stuck beneath the face of a drooling sleeper, something similar to what a writer from 1918 may well experience based on the letter below (14 June 1918, ST)

But what’s really worrying is this kiasu hogging mentality that pervades our society, whether it’s sleeping in the library or on the train not giving up seats to grumpy old men, choping hawker centre seats with tissue packs, or snatching the last copy of free MyPaper. Singaporeans just seem consumed by an overwhelming sense of entitlement and self-importance. Our only resource are our people, and if we continue to slurry our image as ugly-beyond-redemption Singaporeans and treat each other with base contempt without pulling together and reflecting on our actions,  then very little hope remains.

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