Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Xu Xi

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Xu Xi is a third-year Political Science student at NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. As a Resource Library and Curatorial Intern, Xu Xi worked alongside her fellow intern Teen Zhen on the research of various approaches and strategies in organizing the museum’s library collection.

Much of my 10 weeks of internship is spent in the NUS Museum's resource library, where Teen Zhen and I assisted with the organization of the Chinese collection. We were tasked to work on introducing a system of classification for the books that can facilitate new encounters, such that they are not being constrained by the traditional method of the Dewey decimal system or the Library of Congress Classification which lumps books containing similar subject matter together.

Our search for the best strategy was an adventurous and arduous one – definitely not words one would usually associate with 'library classification'. It started out with a fieldtrip to various libraries to observe the different classification techniques and layouts of library space. We ventured from NUS Central library to the ADM library and Chinese library at NTU (TZ's homeland where she kindly gave me a short tour around her campus), and also to multiple public libraries around Singapore. Initially, the task to find the Best Classification Strategy seemed easy, and we were quick to identify several different ways of classifying the books. Little did we expect that there were actually many considerations to take note of, and we ended up taking quite a long time to decide on the most ideal strategy. We realise that whilst there may be many options available, we must make sure that the chosen option is able to accurately relay our intended message. It is essential to keep questioning ourselves 'why?' and 'how?' while testing out the various methods. Throughout the whole process, Kenneth gave us a lot of space and ideas to try out various methods and strategies, and provided us with reading materials that helped to frame our train of thought. Really am thankful to have him as our supervisor! 

Featuring a blurry TZ who photo-bombed my attempt to capture the layout of CLB Chinese Library. Glad to have TZ together with me as we endured through the cold and the dust!

Featuring stressed me as I stare at the endless pages of Excel file of Chinese book titles

The collection of books we dealt with the most are the Chinese collection, which TZ and I have grown to be really fond of (especially for TZ, the Chinese Studies major). It surprised me that almost the entire collection came from donations, and equally fascinating was the immense variety of books available. There are books that are dated from as far back as 1929, many of which were bounded by the traditional Chinese bookbinding technique.  The library also contain all sorts of periodicals, auction catalogues and compiled collection of paintings and stamps etc. The wide range of content available was especially impressive – these books cover many areas and forms of Chinese art, ranging from contemporary and ancient paintings to specific art forms such as Buddhist art. There were even books on Chinese weaponry! Avid fans of Chinese art or people interested in that discipline should definitely drop by and visit once the resource library is open to the public!

Antique-level books that can be found in NUS Resource Library :O

Our beloved Chinese collection.

A major part of the internship I found intriguing was the various fieldtrips to museums, which were arranged by Michelle. This internship provided me with wonderful opportunities to get in touch with Singapore's art scene and to understand them from the perspective of curators. Sidd and Kenneth often ask us questions after the tours to enhance our understanding of the exhibits and introduce alternative point-of-views, allowing us to explore beneath what's under the surface. This definitely changes the way I will be looking at museums and exhibitions in future. Moreover, visits to places such as the Substation forces one to reconsider the role of art institutions in Singapore amidst the increasingly vibrant art scene. 

NUS Baba House – one of my favourite trips which highlighted the importance of conservation in Singapore in preserving these rare cultural heritage sites.

Last but not least, the internship dialogues – it is a new initiative to ensure that the interns were able to maximise our learning here, whereby we were tasked to come up with our individual research topics and present the results of our findings to the rest during the bi-weekly sessions. It was a fulfilling and enriching experience to be involved in discussions with the fellow interns, who are an interesting mix of people from different majors – ranging from Chinese studies major, Philosophy to Global studies major. The dialogue was a great platform for a battle of wits, exposing us to the differing perspectives regarding issues dealing with museum and art, especially since each of us has different areas of research interest.

Wefie after staff outing – thanks for all the joy and laughter throughout the past 10 weeks! (Missing Chutong in this pic ): )

All in all, this internship had been a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for me, that had allowed me to come in touch with the various behind-the-scenes of museum work and experience a small part of life as a curator. It has been such a great honour to have been given the chance to intern here, allowing me to discover this hidden cultural gem we have right here in NUS.


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