Double Booked

Published on 28 February 2018

Credit: Subramanian Ganesh

Actor and librarian Mohammed Shafie shares how he blends his two roles.

By Jo Tan

“When teachers in school asked students to be school librarians, I would think, ‘That’s for introverts or slackers,’ ” says Mohammed Shafie. A freelance actor, Shafie takes on roles that have him doing anything but slacking off. He’s played a law-breaker on Channel 5 series Crimewatch, and voiced young theatre practitioners’ gripes about the industry in the play, The Truth About Lying.

As of 2016, he also became an employee of the National Library Board. “I joined for the stability because my mother fell ill, but was pleasantly surprised to find a whole incredible world in libraries. The Preservation and Conservation Room, for instance, has people in masks and lab coats caring for old and precious books,” he says.

“I’m a cataloguer, I create descriptions for library materials so search engines can give relevant data to users. I’ve found that being inquisitive and open-minded are good traits for this job, and for acting too. Inquisitiveness spurs me to research each book to describe it in a way that would make it reachable to the right audience. My ability to think out of the box lets me create descriptions that help readers, who might have previously dismissed a book, find something there to interest them.”

It hasn’t been easy getting up to speed. “While most senior librarians I know have a Master’s or more in Library Science, this isn’t widely available in Singapore. Instead, I  went through tests on language proficiency and literary knowledge to get my position. I took courses to understand the basics of cataloguing and how to create systems, repositories and archives, and make them friendlier for library users.”

Shafie also employs his dramatic skills in the library, which hosts increasingly diverse programmes. “I volunteered for children’s storytelling. I like reimagining stories, inserting diverse physicality to inspire kids’ imaginations. I’ve also worked on the Digital Archive of Singapore Tamil Theatre. People know of Tamil translations of Western works, but not local writers whose plays — sometimes unpublished — are available in the library. It’s wonderful to make these accessible. When I catalogued for that and spotted my own face from a play I worked on previously, that was bonus happiness.”

Shafie continues to act, and expects his day job to stand him in good stead for the upcoming Four Horse Road, a play inspired by historical events around Waterloo Street. “Being acquainted with different books gives me broader perspectives on various issues, which makes me a better actor. Plus, I’ll know exactly where to find obscure historical materials for research!”

Four Horse Road plays from 4–28 April at The Theatre Practice, Waterloo Street.

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