The National Library Board book controversy

The National Library Board’s (NLB) decision to remove three children’s titles that did not promote the traditional notions of family has sparked controversy. A #FreeMyLibrary social media campaign and at least two petitions have been launched in opposition to the move.
The books removed are “And Tango Makes Three”, “The White Swan Express: A Story about Adoption” and “Who is in my Family?” .
The move has generated quite a bit of buzz and the members of the public had mixed views about the decision. “I think that (the books) should be pulled out, because it’s not the kind of values which we want to impart to our future generation,” said one. Another felt that “if the books are needed somehow for education purposes, I think can put a caution there, something like PG16.”
Some others have decided to make their views known in other ways. Novelist and playwright Ovidia Yu announced her resignation from the Singapore Writers’ Festival Steering Committee, citing programme partner NLB as the reason. A group of writers have also decided to boycott a panel discussion they were supposed to have at the National Library.
Not only that, but three judges of this year’s Singapore Literature Prize have also resigned in protest over the NLB’s move. In a statement, Mr T Sasitharan, head of the Intercultural Theatre Institute, author Romen Bose and Yale-NUS professor Robin Hemley “condemned in the strongest terms” the decision to remove and destroy the books.
Some netizens have organised a reading event, where copies of “And Tango Makes Three” and “Who’s in My Family?” were made available for sharing.
Despite the protest, there was also an online letter supporting the NLB’s decision. It garnered more than 25,000 signatures, before the call for signatures ended at 12 midnight. The organisers, who are behind a Facebook group called Singaporeans United for Family, said it was sending the letter to ministers from the Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.
The withdrawal of the three titles has been the subject of controversy in the past few weeks, drawing both protest and support from the public. A poll by REACH found that those who have been following the debate had divided opinions, with 45% supporting NLB’s move, 28% disagreeing, and 23% staying neutral. The poll also found out that 52% of Singaporeans agree that books promoting values that are not in line with traditional family values should not be made available in the children’s section of public libraries. Of the remainder, 21% disagreed and 23% were neutral.
Members of Parliament (MPs) have called on the NLB to put in place a more transparent and robust review process for its books.
“A more transparent review process would not only stand up better to scrutiny, but allow it to “defend (its) position”, said MP Baey Yam Keng, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information.
Mr Baey also suggested having a steering committee to advise the library on acquiring materials for its collection. This could be made up of people from a diverse section of society, such as experts from libraries in other countries, parents and book enthusiasts.
Nominated MP Janice Koh agreed that a broad panel of assessors should review requests to withdraw books and the decisions should be made transparent to the public. She said the NLB’s “hasty” decision-making was “perplexing” and added that she was “concerned that NLB has chosen to listen to complaints from a small group of people … while ignoring others, including many parents, who want the right to choose.”
The NLB has since announced that it will reinstate two of the withdrawn children’s titles in the adult’s section.

-Germaine Lee (1T)

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