Thursday, 10 July 2014

NLB removes children's books for 'Not Being Pro-Family'











What books are withdrawn and why: National Library Board
In the wake of controversy over its decision to pull three titles for not being "pro-family", the National Library Board explains what types of books it withdraws from its shelves.
By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia, 10 Jul 2014

The National Library Board's (NLB) selection process for books is under scrutiny, following controversy over its decision to pull three titles that did not promote the traditional notions of family.

A #FreeMyLibrary social media campaign and at least two petitions have been launched in opposition to the move. NLB on Thursday (July 10) stressed that it would not be reinstating the withdrawn titles. However, it stated that its collection policy "does not exclude materials on alternative lifestyles".

Channel NewsAsia sent NLB the following queries on its selection process for books, and these are its replies.


Q: NLB receives an average of 20 requests a year, not all these were related to children books. What are some examples?

A: We receive about 20 requests a year. We withdraw less than a third of those requested, out of our collection of over 5 million items. For instance, we were asked to remove James Patterson’s “Kill me if you can”, which is in the Adult collection, on the basis that it contains an incest theme. We kept the title in our Adult collection.

An example of a withdrawn title from the Adult collection: “The Embassy House: the explosive eyewitness account of the Libya embassy siege by the soldier who was there”. The publisher fed back that it was found to contain inconsistent accounts of events of the 2012 Benghazi Consulate attack.


Q: What is NLB’s review process for its books?

A: Given our large collection of over 5 million books and audio-visual materials, we continuously review the books that we carry in our libraries. Books are regularly discussed by librarians from across the 24 branches and the senior management of Public Libraries, headed by the Chief Librarian. As our librarians interact with thousands of visitors, they have a sensing of the needs and concerns of the community that they serve at each library. Reference is also made to our Collection Development Policy during such discussions. The two copies of ‘And Tango makes Three’, for instance, came in a few months ago. Not long after they came, they surfaced during our regular reviews by the librarians. Hence, the parent’s feedback on these books was in line with our own concerns, and NLB removed the books


Q: How many children's titles were pulled out of the libraries this year and what are they?

A: Based on customers’ feedback, “And Tango Makes Three”, “The White Swan Express” and “Who is in my Family?” are the only three children’s titles withdrawn from our collection this year.


Q: Were these titles removed because they "go against the pro-family stand" of the NLB?

A: NLB’s collection development policy takes special care of our children’s collections to ensure they are age-appropriate. We take a cautious approach, particularly in books and materials for children. NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.

Our Adult collection does contain titles with homosexual themes and our collection policy does not exclude materials on alternative lifestyles.


Q: How many among the one million items purchased in a year are for the children's section?

A: We have a collection of 5 million items and we purchase about 1 million items per year. Children’s books are a very high percentage of this, as many of these books undergo wear and tear.





Two removed children's books will go into adult section at library
Yaacob tells NLB to put barred titles back on shelves
Books will be kept in libraries' adult section
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

COMMUNICATIONS and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has instructed the National Library Board (NLB) to reinstate two controversial children's titles to its shelves but place them in the adult section.

Thus, they will not be pulped, contrary to earlier plans. The library is also to undertake a review of its process of handling books that receive negative feedback from the public, he told The Straits Times yesterday.

The moves come a week after a storm of protest broke out over the discovery that the two books dealing with alternative families and homosexual themes had been withdrawn after a member of the public complained, and that they were to be destroyed.

It later emerged that a third book, Who's In My Family, was withdrawn for the same reason.

It had been disposed of as it was reviewed earlier in the year, Dr Yaacob said. The other two, And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express, will now return, but in the adult section.

"The decision on what books children can or cannot read remains with their parents. Parents who wish to borrow these books to read with their children will have the option to do so," said Dr Yaacob.



He stood by the decision to remove the books from the children's section. "As I said earlier, NLB has to decide what books should be made readily available to children, who are usually unsupervised, in the children's section of our public libraries," he said in an e-mail reply that was later posted on his Facebook page.

On his prompting the NLB to review its process of dealing with books that attract negative feedback, Dr Yaacob said: "NLB will continue to ensure that books in the children's section are age-appropriate. We have a much wider range of books in the adult section of public libraries."

He noted that many had objected to the idea that the books would be pulped after being withdrawn from circulation. "I understand these reactions, which reflect a deep-seated respect in our culture for the written word."

At a press conference later, NLB chief executive Elaine Ng acknowledged "that the processes we have in place for reviewing feedback about our books must improve".

When the NLB confirmed last week that it had removed the books and would pulp them, writers such as Dr Gwee Li Sui and playwright and novelist Ovidia Yu reacted by pulling out of events related to the NLB.

Yesterday, some who protested against the removal were glad with what they saw as a compromise. Others said they were waiting for greater transparency in the review process. A few, like humanities professor Robin Hemley, were unmoved. He said the books were being "ghettoised" in the adult section just because they offend some parents.

Single parent Jaxe Pan, 29, applauded the books' return. The architect, whose Facebook protest post attracted 7,000 "shares", said: "I am going to tell my daughter proudly that no matter how small you are, in size or numbers, you always have a voice in your country. It is a fair compromise."









NLB may involve external voices in review process
By Akshita Nanda, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

THE National Library Board (NLB) will improve its internal process of reviewing controversial children's books and possibly involve a panel of external voices, said its chief executive Elaine Ng yesterday.

She could give no more details, including when the new process would be used, but acknowledged that this is in response to the nearly two-week outcry after the board removed children's picturebooks from public shelves following a reader complaint.

At a media conference yesterday, Ms Ng said the books were removed over concerns that the content was unsuitable for the children's section.



Most of about 27 million visitors at public libraries each year are children, she said. "NLB has to decide on age-appropriate books that the majority of parents would be comfortable with when their young children browse unsupervised in the children's section," she added.

Two of the titles, And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, have not been discarded and will be put on the adult shelves for parents to decide if their children should read them.

The library is still considering where to place them and will have more details in a week.

Asked whether a third removed title, Who's In My Family?, would be re-acquired, she said the public could suggest new buys on the NLB's homepage.

Pulping books withdrawn from circulation has been the procedure until now. "It is something we could have thought deeper about," she said. From now until new review processes are in play, complaints about books and content would not be addressed.

Asked if the NLB had come under pressure from religious groups to remove the books, she said: "When people come to us with feedback, it's not possible for us to discern their motivations. These are things we handle at a service level and we take all feedback seriously. We recognise that the processes we have in place for reviewing feedback about our books must improve. This will not be the last time that NLB will find itself facing requests to review our books."

The NLB has a collection of five million books and acquires up to one million a year. Its 200 librarians also review 4,000 to 5,000 titles a year.

When a complaint comes in about a book, at least one librarian reads it "cover to cover", notes reviews and recommendations in trade publications, then puts it up to other librarians for "collective deliberation". Ms Ng said the NLB would look at "other organisations that have tapped external panels and develop a process that will work best for us".





2 removed titles back on social sciences shelves
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

TWO children's titles previously removed by the National Library Board (NLB) will be back on its shelves on Tuesday.

NLB's two copies of And Tango Makes Three will go to the Tampines and Jurong regional libraries. Its only copy of The White Swan Express will be at the Woodlands Regional Library.

They will be part of the social sciences collection in the adult section, the NLB said yesterday in response to queries from The Straits Times.


The NLB had pulled these two titles and a third, Who's In My Family by Robie H. Harris, from its children's section this year following public feedback that they contained references to homosexuality.

Harris' book, which discusses various family types including those with same-sex parents, was discarded earlier this year.

Separately, three books on sex education for children were also removed from its collection earlier this year following an internal review.

When asked if these titles would be reinstated too, a spokesman for the library board said they "could be considered under the new review framework that NLB is working on".

NLB's decision to remove the books caused an uproar online and in the literary community, with several writers dropping out of NLB-related events.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim then stepped in and asked the library board to reinstate the titles in the adult section.

At a press conference last Friday to announce this, NLB's chief executive Elaine Ng also said that the library board would fine-tune its existing review process, and possibly involve a panel of external voices. Details are to come.

The compromise may go some way in calming waters stirred by the episode.

Authors of the Sherlock Sam children's books series, Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez, were approached by the library board yesterday to work with it under its Read! Singapore initiative.

The couple said they are "happy to know that there is a concrete and efficient plan to put the books back into circulation".

They have also told NLB that they are open to working with the board again once it reinstates the books and holds an open dialogue session with readers and writers.





Latest move by NLB welcomed - and criticised
Some in both camps unhappy with books kept in adult section
By Pearl Lee, Akshita Nanda And Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

CRITICS of an earlier decision by the National Library Board (NLB) to remove two controversial children's titles have generally welcomed its move to keep the books but shift them to the adult section instead.

Nanyang Technological University student Lim Jialiang, 23, who started an online petition last week with writer Ng Yi-sheng, 33, and PhD student Liyan Chen, 31, against the removal, called the latest NLB decision a "reasonable move of compromise".

"It is a reaffirmation of our secular, shared space," he added.

NLB said yesterday that it would reinstate And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins raising a chick, as well as The White Swan Express, about two female partners adopting a baby, in the adult section. The NLB's withdrawal of the titles for not being "pro-family" had sparked a chorus of criticisms since it was first reported about a week ago.

Ms Germaine Ong, 30, a mother and freelance marketer who set up a Facebook group called Singapore's Parents Against Library Censorship, also called the NLB reversal the right move.

Singapore Management University associate law professor Eugene Tan said in turn that the decision by the Ministry of Communications and Information shows it is responsive to public feedback.

" I would describe the decision as being sensitive and nuanced and one that will help to address the concerns of the various groups in what has been an unnecessarily divisive issue," said Mr Tan, a Nominated MP.

Not all agreed though.

Ms Carrie Yu, who is in her 40s and had signed a petition supporting NLB's removal of the children's books, said: "The Government is sending a wrong signal (showing) that it can be pressured by certain interest groups by caving in to their demands, which are self-serving in nature and unacceptable by many in society."

Like her, senior financial consultant David Ng, 51, who had supported NLB's earlier move, said he was disappointed. "These books shouldn't even be in the National Library in the first place, regardless of what section," he said.

Facebook group Singaporeans United For Family, which had last week penned a letter to back the removal, said it "respects NLB's decision to balance the different interests at stake in order to ensure that books in the children's section are age-appropriate."

But it maintains that "public institutions should teach children the value of family as the basic building block of society". It added that it defines family as a man and a woman marrying and having and bringing up children.

Nominated MP Janice Koh said the NLB's move "is a compromise position that may calm the situation for the time being".

"But it does not necessarily mean that those from either camp, with regards to the cultural battle over the content of the books, are happy."

Indeed, not all critics of the NLB were appeased.

Arts educator T. Sasitharan, 57, for one, called the NLB's latest move "a half-measure".

"This epitomises the idea of Singaporeans as infantilised people. What better symbol of that can there be to have children's books in the adult section?" said Mr Sasitharan, who last week quit as a judge of the Singapore Literature Prize, which is linked to NLB.

Said humanities professor Robin Hemley, who also resigned as a Singapore Literature Prize judge: "Instead of burying the books in the adult section, why not simply place a sticker on them attesting to their controversial nature?"

He said NLB should rectify its mistake of discarding Who's In My Family, the third children's title flagged for its homosexual content, by ordering another copy.

Lawyer and novelist Adrian Tan, 48, who pulled out of an NLB talk on Sunday, said: "There are three lessons for Singapore: Public institutions must be transparent, public property must not be summarily destroyed and public space must be shared by all."





One in 2 backs NLB decision, says Govt poll
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

JUST over half of Singaporeans agree that books which are not in line with traditional family values should not be placed in the children's section of public libraries.

The National Library Board's (NLB) decision to remove three children's books from its shelves was also supported by 45 per cent of people who were aware of the controversy, with 28 per cent disageeing. About a quarter were neutral about the issue.


Despite the massive fallout following NLB's move, four in 10 Singaporeans remain unaware of the saga, according to the survey of 843 citizens.

This was even with writers pulling out of NLB-linked events, and a crowd of 400 turning up for a reading session at the National Library Building's atrium to protest against NLB's decision.

The board had removed the books after receiving complaints that they were not "pro-family".

Of the 60 per cent who were following the debate, about one in five believed the books should be pulped.

But most - 55 per cent - suggested other alternatives, with the top choice to move them to the library's adult section.



REACH chairman Amy Khor said the results of the poll, which was conducted from Monday to Thursday, "remind us that there are still issues that are divisive and can fracture us as a country".

"It is therefore important not to let these divisions deepen and tear us apart," added Dr Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower.

"In the interest of all Singaporeans and future generations, let us discuss this rationally and find a common ground that we can agree on."










NLB's decision to withdraw books based on "community norms": Yaacob
Yaacob says prevailing norms support teaching children about conventional families
By Alfred Chua, TODAY, 12 Jul 2014

The National Library Board’s (NLB) decision to withdraw three children’s book titles deemed to contravene pro-family values was carefully considered and guided by community norms, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim as he weighed in on a controversy that has seen the statutory board bear the brunt of an increasing backlash from the writing fraternity.



Prominent authors yesterday dissociated themselves from the statutory board and some declared that they will boycott its events.

Playwright and novelist Ovidia Yu resigned from the steering committee of the Singapore Writers Festival — of which the NLB was a programme partner — while four other writers, Dr Gwee Li Sui, Mr Adrian Tan, Mr Prem Anand and Mr Felix Cheong, pulled out of an NLB panel discussion on Sunday, leading to the cancellation of the event.

Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng, a Man Booker Prize nominee and Man Asian Literary Prize winner, also said on Facebook he has informed the NLB that he found it very difficult to support its literary projects or to be associated with them. He added that he will be donating a cheque from the NLB — for the use of excerpts from his book The Gift of Rain for an anthology — to a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender charity.

Explaining the Government’s approach, Dr Yaacob noted that this is “not the first, nor will it be the last time that public institutions like the NLB find themselves facing such a controversy”. He said the withdrawal of the titles was not based on a single complaint, without an attempt to assess the merits of the complaint. “The NLB has a process where its officers carefully consider such feedback before making a decision,” he added.

Noting that the decision was “only with respect to the children’s section in the public libraries”, Dr Yaacob said the NLB is not deciding what books children can or cannot read. “That decision remains with the parents, as it always has been. People can buy these titles for their children if they wish. Rather, the NLB has to decide what books should be made readily available to children, who are sometimes unsupervised, in the children’s section of our public libraries,” he said.

He added that the decision was guided by community norms, which public libraries ought to consider since they serve the community. “The prevailing norms, which the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans accept, support teaching children about conventional families but not about alternative, non-traditional families, which is what the books in question are about,” he said.

“This approach is shared (by) all public agencies dealing with the education and care of young Singaporeans.”

Dr Yaacob noted that, like in other societies, there is “considerable effort” by some here to shift these norms, as well as an “equally strong pushback by those who don’t wish to see change”. “Societies are never static and will change over time. But the NLB’s approach is to reflect existing social norms, and not to challenge or seek to change them,” he said.

NLB ‘SADDENED’ BY BOYCOTT

The Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) will be held from Oct 31 to Nov 9. When contacted, Ms Yu declined to elaborate on her resignation from the festival’s steering committee, which comprises members such as journalists, writers and academics.

Festival director Paul Tan said: “We are sad that Ovidia has decided to resign ... but I do understand her feelings as a creative writer.”

Adding that he has asked Ms Yu to reconsider, the National Arts Council deputy chief executive said: “But we will respect her final decision. If she cannot stay on, the SWF team would like to thank her for her ideas and positive contributions during our meetings.”

The NLB confirmed that Sunday’s panel discussion, titled Humour Is Serious Business, will be cancelled following the pullout of the four writers.

It said it was saddened by their decisions and that the 77 participants who had signed up for the event — which is part of the NLB’s Read Singapore campaign — would be disappointed. “Moving forward, we still welcome these authors to work with us,” the NLB said.

Dr Gwee said the decision to boycott the event was collectively taken by the four writers.

He said: “We are completely ill at ease with the NLB’s decision and feel that we cannot — in good conscience — fiddle while Rome burns.”

Mr Cheong said what angered him the most was the NLB saying it would pulp the books. “This is akin to book-burning,” he added.

Other members of the writing fraternity, including Mr Alfian Sa’at and Mr Ng Yi-Sheng, urged the community to boycott NLB events or draw attention to the issue.

“There is enough conflict on this issue, but not enough understanding ... I am happy to work with the NLB to motivate Singaporeans to read widely. But only if the NLB has the same conviction,” said Mr Adrian Tan.

Meanwhile, hundreds have signed up on Facebook for a planned gathering at the atrium of the Central Public Library on Sunday. Participants are encouraged to take along their children and their favourite books to “make a peaceful statement about how much we — and our kids — love to read”. Copies of And Tango Makes Three and Who’s In My Family? — which, together with The White Swan Express, have been withdrawn from the NLB’s collection — will be distributed.

Speaking to TODAY, co-organiser Jolene Tan stressed that the event is not a protest but a social gathering and hence she did not see the need to apply for a permit. She also said the children’s safety will be the priority.

Responding to queries, the police said that under the Public Order Act, a permit is generally required to hold a protest in a public place, regardless of the number of participants, if the purpose is to, among other things, “demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government”.








NLB 'saddened' by criticism
But it is not changing decision to remove three 'unsuitable' children's books: CEO
By Akshita Nanda, The Sunday Times, 13 Jul 2014

The National Library Board did not anticipate the widespread dismay that greeted news that it had removed three children's books following complaints about their homosexual themes, chief executive Elaine Ng said yesterday.

She told The Sunday Times in an interview that she was saddened that several local writers have withdrawn from library-related events in protest. "I'm saddened by their disappointment in us. I would like to engage those who have worked with us for a long time and hope they will accept our outstretched hands in future," she said.

But the NLB is not changing its decision to keep the three books off the shelves. They will not be resold or donated as usually happens with discarded books, because of concern that they might be unsuitable for young children.

"I understand that this is an issue that people feel strongly about but please, please also look to all the good things NLB has done over the years," Ms Ng said. "NLB has done a lot over many years to build trust in the community and we want to continue working hard to build that trust and see what we can do to reclaim the trust of those who feel disappointed in us."

The NLB came under criticism after news broke last Tuesday that three books had been withdrawn and would be destroyed or "pulped". They are: And Tango Makes Three, based on the true story of two male penguins which hatched an egg in a New York zoo; The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, featuring a lesbian couple among others; and Who's In My Family?: All About Our Families, which features various family structures.

The library has two copies of And Tango Makes Three and one of White Swan Express, and the books have not been destroyed yet. Ms Ng could not comment on the copies of Who's In My Family? which were removed earlier this year. Earlier reports said six children's titles were affected, but Ms Ng said yesterday there were only three.

The library's action sparked a storm of criticism online.

On Friday, playwright and novelist Ovidia Yu resigned from the steering committee of the Singapore Writers Festival, of which NLB is a partner. Then writers Gwee Li Sui, Adrian Tan, Prem Anand and Felix Cheong cancelled their panel to be held today at the Central Public Library as part of the Read! Singapore initiative. Dr Gwee also declined to speak at yesterday's National Schools Literature Festival.

The books were taken off shelves after at least one reader complained, leading many to question the library's review process and demand more transparency.

"It's unfortunate that it appears to be a knee-jerk reaction but we have an ongoing process of review," said Ms Ng. The NLB has a collection of five million books, acquires one million a year and reviews between 4,000 and 5,000 titles a year for suitability.

Ms Ng said information about the withdrawals could have been communicated better, and suggested a public dialogue "down the road". Asked why not hold it now, she replied: "Things are still fairly emotional."

Writer Cheong, 49, said last night: "The only way forward is for NLB to at least recognise that pulping books is irrational and unacceptable, that there are ways these books can still be saved and made available to parents who would like to borrow them."

Writer Tan, 48, would like a more transparent review process, saying: "It's important for NLB to assure the public that it will resist external pressure to ban books."

The NLB has not been without its supporters. One Facebook group, Singaporeans United For Family, has commended its action and claimed to have gathered more than 24,000 signatures of support as of yesterday.





Books will not be given away
By Akshita Nanda, The Sunday Times, 13 Jul 2014

The National Library Board (NLB) has received at least one offer to buy all copies of the three children's books it removed this year, as well as suggestions to donate them to groups willing to carry them.

But chief executive Elaine Ng said yesterday: "That's not something that we're thinking about at the moment. We appreciate all the suggestions, we're grateful for all the caring critics who have taken the trouble to share their thoughts.

"This is something we've withdrawn and at the moment we are staying with that decision."

The NLB usually sells discarded books or donates them to independent libraries or charities. Ms Ng said old books are regularly pulped or recycled, for example, "magazines that are really worn and tattered" or "cookbooks that people have torn pages out from" and are unsuitable for sale.

"Books that are withdrawn, we would pulp them because we can't put them in a book sale," she added.

The library has three copies of two of the controversial titles: two of And Tango Makes Three and one of The White Swan Express, and The Sunday Times was shown a copy of each yesterday. Ms Ng could not provide information about the third book, Who's In My Family?

Theatre director Selena Tan had offered in an open e-mail to the NLB to buy the books, although she was not confident it would change its mind on withdrawing the books.

She told The Sunday Times: "I hope they are taking the time to think things through and that they will come up with a reasonable response in the near future. I hope that, in the meantime, they will refrain from destroying these books."





Removal of books: NLB replies

I REFER to your sensational article ("NLB had pulled more books off its shelves"; yesterday) announcing that we had removed "at least six children's titles... three more than (earlier) confirmed". Your report implies we had been misleading.

That is not so. We have consistently stated that the three titles that were the subject of controversy earlier - And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express and Who's In My Family - were the only books we withdrew this year as a result of customer feedback.

The other titles mentioned were not withdrawn because of customer feedback.

They were withdrawn after they were reviewed internally for age-appropriateness.

As we have stated before, our librarians regularly review children's books.

They look at 4,000 to 5,000 children's titles each year as part of their ongoing review process.

T. Sundraraj
Director Communications, Relations and Development National Library Board
ST Forum, 16 Jul 2014

ST EDITOR'S NOTE: Our report was not meant to be sensational.
We had asked NLB to clarify the number of books withdrawn recently after learning that there were more than three, but NLB did not respond to our queries, until this letter.





NLB had pulled more books off its shelves
At least 6 children's titles removed recently, 3 more than it confirmed
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2014

AT LEAST six children's books have been pulled off the shelves in recent months, more than previously confirmed by the National Library Board (NLB).

Last Saturday, the library board's chief executive, Mrs Elaine Ng, said three titles - And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express and Who's In My Family? - had been pulled this year.

However, The Straits Times understands that there were more.

The NLB withdrew the children's book Who's In My Family? by Robie Harris on March 26, and then temporarily took all 22 remaining titles by Harris off the shelves in April.

They were then reviewed individually by the board's selectors, and three titles classified as non-fiction for junior readers were recommended for permanent removal.

These were It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families And Friends; It's So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, And Families; and It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, And Sexual Health.

All three focus on sex education for children and have a page featuring various family structures, including those with single parents and same-sex couples.

The Straits Times understands that a note was sent out to all public libraries on April 8, asking for the three titles to be withdrawn. They are no longer listed in the NLB's catalogue.

All remaining titles by Harris, which were deemed "pro-family books for young persons", were returned to the shelves. These include Who Has What?: All About Girls' Bodies and Boys' Bodies, and Mail Harry To The Moon, a story on having a new sibling.

Yesterday, the NLB declined to comment on whether it had indeed withdrawn the three Harris titles and why it had done so.

The NLB may also have axed another children's title, The Family Book, by Todd Parr.

Transport consultant Paul Barter, 47, said on Facebook last Saturday that he wrote to the NLB that day to ask if it had removed the book.

He borrowed it several months ago, but cannot find it in the library now.

Dr Barter, who has an adopted daughter, said he has been looking for "age-appropriate books that have adoption as a theme, that mention adoption in positive ways or which portray a diversity of family circumstances in a friendly way".

He told The Straits Times that he had wanted to borrow the book again as it was a "useful resource to teach my daughter about her identity", but could not find it.

Again, the NLB declined to comment.

The Facebook group, Singaporeans United For Family, which collected signatures to support the NLB's action, has submitted an open letter to the Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Social and Family Development and Ministry of Education.

According to the group, the letter is backed by 26,000 signatures. It declined to reveal the identities of these supporters, and would not name the person who had written the online letter.

Mrs Ho Bee Bee, a 42-year-old personal assistant who signed the letter, said the removed titles "were for kids of young age".

"Making them readily available at the children's section makes me uncomfortable," said the mother of two boys, aged 10 and 11. "I had trusted NLB to purchase books suitable for young children."





Archie comic barred from sale for gay content
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2014

AN ARCHIE comic book depicting a same-sex marriage has been barred from sale in Singapore after a complaint from a member of the public, and the National Library Board (NLB) is reviewing its available copies.

Mr Sonny Liew, 39, a graphic novelist based in Singapore, uncovered this after writing to bookseller Kinokuniya last week.

He had searched for the book in vain on the bookstore's website after the recent controversy over NLB's withdrawal of three children's titles with homosexual themes due to customer feedback.

"I'd wondered if there were similar pressures being brought to bear against other book sources, namely commercial bookstores," said Mr Liew.

Kinokuniya said in an e-mail reply to him: "We regret that (the comic book) is deemed to breach the Content Guidelines for Imported Publications and removed from sale by notice of the Media Development Authority (MDA). We are not able to sell this title."

The comic book, Archie: The Married Life Book Three, was published in February last year and depicts the marriage of Kevin Keller, the iconic series' first openly gay character. Kinokuniya's website has Book 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 available for sale or pre-order, while checks on NLB's catalogue turned up only the offending third book.

When asked, the MDA said it had assessed the comic in March after receiving a complaint and found it breached the guidelines with "its depiction of the same-sex marriage of two characters". It then told the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets. The comic can still be bought overseas and brought into Singapore.

The MDA added: "The Publications Consultative Panel, which comprises a cross-section of Singapore society, was consulted. Its members advised that the theme of the comic was not in line with social norms and is in breach of existing content guidelines."

The panel's chairman Edward D'Silva told The Straits Times that the members had been briefed on the complaint earlier this year, before the NLB controversy, and a "majority" of them had voted against the book.

He added that the panel, which has 28 members, usually meets four times a year but few books with homosexual themes had come to its attention. "Magazines and other periodicals with such content have been disallowed in the past, but books are a more recent trend. It's a new landscape."

The MDA said the importing and distribution of publications is largely self-regulated, with book retailers referring to the guidelines on its website.

"MDA reviews public feedback or complaints and takes action on a case-by-case basis if there are breaches of its guidelines," it said.

Checks on the NLB's website last night showed it had four copies for borrowing, from the Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Cheng San and Yishun libraries. As of last night, all four were on loan.

When asked, the NLB said it had bought the comic book before MDA found it in breach. "We will be reviewing the book in the light of MDA's decision," said a spokesman. It added that the comic was acquired for its adult collection. "NLB takes a broader approach for (this) collection than it does for its children's collection."









NLB defends move to remove books
One of the titles was already under review by librarians
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 11 Jul 2014

THREE children's titles removed by the National Library Board (NLB) for having homosexual content will not be reinstated despite appeals.

Elaborating on its decision yesterday, NLB said that it continually reviews the books that it carries in its libraries.

"Books are regularly discussed by librarians from across the 24 branches and the senior management of Public Libraries, headed by the Chief Librarian," it said in an e-mailed statement.

"As our librarians interact with thousands of visitors, they have a sensing of the needs and concerns of the community that they serve at each library."

Giving the example of one of the titles - And Tango Makes Three, about a pair of same-sex penguins - NLB said the title came in "only a few months ago" and had already surfaced during regular reviews by its librarians when a parent wrote in to complain.

"Hence, the parent's feedback on these books was in line with our own concerns, and NLB removed the books," it said.

NLB did not elaborate on the other two removed titles - The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, and Who's In My Family?: All About Our Families. Speaking at a press briefing yesterday to address the gathering controversy over the books, NLB assistant director Jasna Dhansukhlal said the board considers book reviews and trade catalogues, among other things, when choosing books.

NLB takes "special care" in choosing content for children, she said, but added: "If you are acquiring one million books for your collection, that's a big number."

News of the removed titles had sparked an uproar online, with one petition to reinstate them collecting more than 3,000 signatures in two days.

Two mothers are also organising a "read-in" this Sunday afternoon at the NLB atrium along North Bridge Road, where the books will be made available for children to read.

Some of these critics have argued that library users should be free to decide what they want their children to read.

Addressing this yesterday, Ms Jasna took reporters to the children's section of Toa Payoh Public Library to emphasise that children often "move around freely to select content on their own".

In its statement, NLB also highlighted that its adult collection "does contain titles with homosexual themes and our collection policy does not exclude materials on alternative lifestyles".

NLB kept the title Kill Me If You Can by novelist James Patterson despite users objecting to its incest theme and asking for it to be removed.

NLB said it gets about 20 e-mails a year from the public to ask for certain titles to be withdrawn, but fewer than a third of the titles in question end up being removed. In removing the books, NLB had said that they were not "pro-family".

Quizzed on how NLB defines family, Ms Jasna would say only it is "consistent with that of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development". She added that the books will be pulped - the standard process for removed titles.





MPs call for a more transparent book review process
By Alfred Chua, TODAY, 11 Jul 2014

Despite the strong public reaction to its recent moves to withdraw three children’s book titles — after receiving complaints that they did not promote family values — the National Library Board (NLB) has reiterated that the titles will not be reinstated and they will be pulped, in accordance with library policy.

However, some observers, including Members of Parliament (MPs), have called on the statutory board to put in place a more transparent and robust review process that would better stand up to scrutiny, and allow it to “defend (its) position”, in the words of MP for Tampines Baey Yam Keng, who is deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information. “This is public money that is used to be make book purchases and it is public feedback that is received — both good and bad,” he said.

On Tuesday, following a complaint by a member of Facebook group We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore, the NLB yanked And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express off its shelves. The Straits Times reported that a third title, Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families, was withdrawn in May.

The NLB said it had carried two copies of And Tango Makes Three and one copy of The White Swan Express. It was unable to provide information on the number of copies of Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families it had carried. It said the three titles — the only ones to be withdrawn from its children’s collection so far this year — were carried in the regional libraries at Tampines, Woodlands and Jurong, but declined to give more details.

The NLB said in reply to media queries that librarians from across its 24 branches and senior management of public libraries — led by the chief librarian — regularly discuss the titles in its collection. “As our librarians interact with thousands of visitors, they have a (sense) of the needs and concerns of the community that they serve at each library.”

Apart from complying with regulations from the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Media Development Authority of Singapore, the NLB also draws reference from its Collection Development Policy during such discussions, when public complaints are also looked into.

Under the policy, the NLB “excludes materials that are critical of any racial or religious groups, that contain derogatory stereotypes, promote intolerance, violence and any other insensitive material that is excessive”.

The NLB said: “The two copies of And Tango Makes Three, for instance, came in a few months ago. Not long after they came, they surfaced during our regular reviews by the librarians ... the parent’s feedback on these books was in line with our own concerns.”

Its collection policy “takes special care of our children’s collections to ensure they are age-appropriate”, the NLB said. “We take a cautious approach ... NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”

It noted that its adult collection contains titles with homosexual themes and its collection policy does not exclude materials on alternative lifestyles.

On average, the NLB receives about 20 requests a year to withdraw certain titles. “We withdraw less than a third of those requested, out of our collection of over five million items,” it said. For example, it received a request to remove Kill Me If You Can by James Patterson — which is carried in the adult collection — on the basis that it contains an incest theme. It decided to continue carrying the title.

Another book, The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There, was removed from the adult collection after feedback from the book’s publisher that it was found to contain “inconsistent accounts of events of the 2012 Benghazi Consulate attack”.

At a media briefing held by the NLB at Toa Payoh Public Library to share how it selects its titles, reporters pressed the NLB for details of its review process, including the identities of librarians who make the call to remove certain titles. Ms Jasna Dhansukhlal, NLB’s assistant director of public library services, said yesterday that there is no specific committee or department that oversees this.

The move to pull And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express was purportedly made two days after Mr Teo Kai Loon had written to the NLB. Ms Jasna said it strives to respond to public requests as quickly as it can but may take longer sometimes.

Mr Baey suggested having a steering committee to advise the library on acquiring materials for its collection. This could be made up of people from a large cross-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.

At least two petitions — garnering more than 5,000 signatures as of last night — have been set up to call for the withdrawn titles to be reinstated.

Ms Koh said the NLB’s “hasty” decision-making was “perplexing”. She added: “I am 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.”

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, who chairs the GPC for Communications and Information, said that NLB is in a tricky position. While a line must be drawn on the extent to which book content should be screened, “we should also be aware that for literary material, there is some level of ambiguity and subjectivity ... It is not that easy to draw that line”, he said.





Takes two to tango but many to argue
By Thrina Tham, My Paper, 10 Jul 2014

THE move by the National Library Board (NLB) to take three children's books off its shelves has sparked off a lively debate.

NLB removed the books from its shelves on Tuesday, following complaints from a member of the public that the books "do not promote family values".

Some agree with the move. Pre-school teacher Samantha Ng said that "there should not be unsupervised reading of such books".

She understands why some parents might be worried about books that address mature themes.

"If kids come across a lot of these books, they might think that it is a norm or that there are a lot of families like that," she said.



One of the books, And Tango Makes Three, features two male penguins that behave like a couple and are given an egg to raise. It is recommended for children aged four to eight.

However, experts said that parents might be imposing their worries on their children.

"What we are doing is inputting adult views and perspectives on children", said family therapist Benny Bong.

Mr Bong, who clarified that he supports the censorship of material for children, said: "Children who are just looking at two penguins, might not distinguish whether they are male or female."

Similarly, child psychologist Brian Yeo said: "Children will not form a judgment. Judgment and opinions are formed through adult guidance."

While children may be exposed to books that aim to normalise alternative relationships, it is daily interaction with peers and family that influence a child's perspective, Dr Yeo said.

"The important thing is that parents are ready to talk about it should questions arise," he said.

Meanwhile, two online petitions have been launched, calling upon NLB to reinstate the books.


It argued that withdrawing the books "is irresponsible and unfair to other library users and parents who may want to teach their children about acceptance, tolerance, and the heterogeneity of family structures".


It attracted some 850 signatures, with many protesting against the censorship of books.

"Such an action violates the library's purpose as a wealth of information and knowledge," wrote a supporter, Samuel Hun.

Others argued that the move by NLB suggested that it was spelling out its stance on homosexuality.

"What NLB has done by removing these titles is to blatantly announce its bias," wrote Seri Rahayu.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said that the library's actions are in line with societal values.

"Recent surveys have shown that the majority of Singaporeans disapprove of same-sex relations. So I reckon the complainant and the library's action can be said to be reflecting the majority's stand on the subject," he explained.

Dr Yeo suggested that the library can address parents' concerns without removing the books completely, by marking out books with "areas of controversy".

Parents would then be aware of the nature of the books they were borrowing for their children.





NLB yanked out 3 other children's books
Two petitions started for reinstating three banned books reported earlier
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 10 Jul 2014

THE three books that were pulled by the National Library Board (NLB) from its shelves for not being "pro-family" were not the only ones that were removed.

The Straits Times has learnt that there were at least three more children's books that were also recently banned. Written by American author Robie H. Harris, they have to do with sex education and are meant for children aged four and above.

A source told The Straits Times that those books were removed in April after e-mail complaints from the public. When contacted, NLB declined to comment, saying it will respond today at a press conference.

It was reported yesterday that the board had yanked three children's titles, which featured same-sex couples, from its collection after complaints from some members of the public that they were not "pro-family".

At least two online petitions have since been started calling for the books to be reinstated.

Student Lim Jialiang, 23, started one with local writer Ng Yi-Sheng, 33, and Ms Liyan Chen, 31, a PhD student from the National University of Singapore. In their petition, the trio said: "The books above help to broach a highly sensitive subject to children, allowing them to understand that there are different versions of what it means to be a 'family'."

Mr Lim told The Straits Times yesterday he felt that NLB was taking "many steps backwards" when it removed those books.

"I understand that the books are offensive to some, but offence is never good grounds for censorship. One can simply choose... not to borrow the books," he said. The petition had garnered 3,100 signatures as of 11pm yesterday.

A separate online petition on petition platform Change.org also called on NLB to reinstate the removed titles. It had 1,158 supporters as of 11pm yesterday.

But members of the open Facebook group "We are against Pinkdot in Singapore" cheered the move, and called on fellow group members to write to NLB to commend its pro-family position.

Facebook user Carrie Yu, who wrote in the group to support NLB's decision, said in an e-mail to The Straits Times: "As responsible adults, we owe it to children to teach them the value of family, and how every child needs a father and a mother.

"To safeguard the moral values of the future generation of our nation, we should protect children from unwholesome influences."

Dr Khoo Kim Choo, who has 30 years of experience in the early childhood field, said it is important to teach pre-schoolers about sex and their body. "Sex is a natural process, and shouldn't be seen as dirty or bad," she said, adding that children that age often question where they came from.

"But children should read such sex education books with their parents or teachers or an adult," said the pre-school operator.

But it may be too early to discuss homosexuality with young children, said Dr Khoo.

Madam Wong Li Wah, 36, who has a five-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter, said it is important for parents to talk to their children about sex and sexual orientation, as they have to face realities.

While she has not come across children's books discussing homosexuals in the library, "if my children pick up a book like that, I hope to be able to sit them down and talk about it because I'll have to face it sooner or later as a parent."





Books on sex education removed from library shelves
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 10 Jul 2014

IT'S NOT THE STORK!

A book about girls, boys, babies, bodies, families and friends by Robie H. Harris

Meant for children aged four and above, this book tells children about the differences between girls and boys. It has a page featuring drawings of an unclothed boy and girl, with their body parts, such as the vulva and the penis, labelled.

It discusses family types, including families with multiple children, families with a mother and father, and families with two mothers or two fathers.

The book also explains the baby-making process as "a special kind of loving" where the "man's penis goes inside the woman's vagina".


IT'S SO AMAZING!

A book about eggs, sperm, birth, babies and families by Robie H. Harris

Meant for children aged seven and above, this book goes into greater details about the pregnancy process, and explains in a comic strip how the sperm and egg meet.

It also talks about love among family members and friends, and homosexual love. It explains miscarriages, abortions and adoptions as well.

The book says that grown-ups may have sex even when they are not intending to have a baby "because it can feel so good to be so close to each other".


IT'S PERFECTLY NORMAL

A book about changing bodies, growing up, sex and sexual health by Robie H. Harris

Written for children aged 10 and above, this book discusses sex more broadly than the previous two books.

It talks about sexual desires, sexual intercourse, being straight and being gay. It has a chapter describing masturbation as "perfectly normal". The book discusses how people can make decisions to abstain from sex or use birth control.

Abortion is also included in a chapter, as well as sexually transmitted diseases and how children can get information and stay safe on the Internet





Netizens petition against NLB removal of children's titles
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 9 Jul 2014

Netizens have pushed back, after the National Library Board (NLB) pulled two children's titles off the shelves on Monday, following email complaints that they were not “pro-family”.

At least two petitions calling on the NLB to reinstate the titles have been making their rounds online. 

One of the titles is about two male penguins who become a couple and raise an egg together, while the other features a female couple trying to adopt a child.

The content of the books has raised the ire of some.

One Facebook user who lodged a complaint about them urged others in a post to not let similar children's books in the library "go under the radar".

But NLB's decision to remove the books has led some to question the kind of message being sent out.

Assoc Prof Paulin Straughan, sociologist at National University of Singapore, said: "I think we have to be very cautious how we address this issue because the important message we have to uphold always is regardless of your sexual orientation, you are an important member of our community. And you don't want to demonise or cast a deviant label on somebody who has an alternative sexual orientation.

“Of course from a parent's perspective, it's a very difficult stance to take. When we are socialising our children, we would want them to stay within the norms and values the family prescribes to… So that's where we have to be mindful, that primarily, that is the responsibility of the family."

She added that while some parents may prefer that the state's norms are in line with the message they want to send to their children, it's a no-win situation.

"You demonise homosexuality, you end up demonising real people who are in your community. And I think given that scenario, it's important for us to remain inclusive, especially when it comes to sending messages to young children," she said.

Those that oppose the NLB's decision said these books are a good way to broach sensitive subjects with children, as well as provide them with different perspectives.

Sociologists said this is a good opportunity for parents to step in to set the context so their children do not grow up with prejudices.

Parents Channel NewsAsia spoke to said the onus is on them to help their kids understand issues better.

One of the parents said: "Just pulling it off the shelves is not the answer. If the parents can explain the books, it would help, but not every parent is equipped to explain such a difficult matter."

Assoc Prof Straughan said: "I don't think any parent would really want their child to end up discriminating against another human being. But the seeds are sown when they are young, and when we teach them very straightforward kind of messaging that this is right and this is wrong, there's no in-between. And they grow up believing that's the case, I think in terms of growing an inclusive society, something goes wrong there."

When contacted, NLB referred Channel NewsAsia to its original statement issued on Tuesday, where it said that it takes a pro-family and cautious approach in selecting books for children, and exercises its best judgment when it comes to assessing the contents of books.

It added that it continually reviews its children's collection.

NLB's statement also said: "We also refer to synopses, reviews and other books written by the authors. Parents can be assured that NLB is sensitive to their concerns and views, and their feedback."





NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves
Decision taken following complaints received that books not 'pro-family'
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2014

THE National Library Board (NLB) has pulled at least three children's books off its shelves after it received complaints the books were not "pro-family".

This came to light after a Facebook user, Mr Teo Kai Loon, posted a note in an open Facebook group yesterday claiming NLB had removed two of the three books following his complaint.

The first book, And Tango Makes Three, features two male penguins that behave as though they are a couple, while the second book on adoption features two female partners adopting a baby from China.

But a source told The Straits Times that two months earlier, the board had pulled out another children's title, Who's In My Family? All About Our Families by Robie H. Harris, after it received e-mails from people objecting to it. The book follows a family's outing to a zoo, and includes references to single parents and same-sex couples.

Mr Teo had posted his note in a group named "We are against Pinkdot in Singapore", called on fellow members to "scrutinise" the library's catalogue and not allow such children's books to "go under the radar". "You can always e-mail NLB for that, the action is swift, all within two days. Remember, the onus is on us."

In the same note, he also included an e-mail he had received from NLB assistant chief executive Tay Ai Cheng, who said the two books have been removed following his feedback. She also said NLB takes a "strong pro-family stand" when selecting books for children.

"We have a collection of more than five million books. While we try to sieve through the contents and exercise our best judgment, it is an arduous task to ensure complete adherence of details in the books to our pro-family stand," she said. "(But) when library visitors like yourself highlight to us any conflicting content within books, we review such books thoroughly and withdraw them from circulation."

Mr Teo did not respond to The Straits Times' queries. He removed the post yesterday evening after it was shared online and attracted criticisms. When asked, the library board confirmed that it had removed all three children's titles and reiterated that it takes a "pro-family and cautious approach" in identifying titles for young readers. It added that it continually reviews its children's collection and is "sensitive" to parents' feedback.

But NLB did not say why the children's titles were selected in the first place. It also did not say how it decides to remove certain titles from its collection.

This incident has prompted some people to write in to NLB to seek explanation.

They include civil society activist Vincent Wijeysingha, who called this episode a "really serious matter of public censorship".

In his letter to the library board, which the former opposition politician reproduced on his Facebook page, he called the National Library "the nation's principal knowledge repository".

"Your decision to withdraw two books on limited feedback without wider consultation is an extremely worrying development given your mandate to cater to all Singaporeans," he said.

Ms Melissa Tsang, 22, who works in content marketing in a start-up, wrote to NLB: "It's only fair that parents decide for their children what they can or cannot read.

"The library matters because we're talking about a free access public educational resource here," she said to The Straits Times.




About the books
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2014

AND TANGO MAKES THREE

Based on the true story of two male chinstrap penguins, named Roy and Silo. It tells of how the pair, who live in Manhattan's Central Park Zoo, built a nest like those of other mating penguins but could not lay an egg.

A zookeeper gave the pair an egg, that needed caring for, from another penguin couple. They then took turns sitting on the egg to keep it warm until it hatched. The chick was named Tango.


THE WHITE SWAN EXPRESS: A STORY ABOUT ADOPTION

It tells the story of people who travel to China to pick up the children they have adopted.

The adoptive parents comprise two married couples from Miami and Toronto, a single mother from Minnesota, and a lesbian couple from Vashon Island near Seattle, who have adopted baby girls from an orphanage in China.

The book tells of the long adoption process and the emotions that come with it. The seven parents travel to the White Swan Hotel in China together, exchanging stories on the way.


WHO'S IN MY FAMILY? ALL ABOUT OUR FAMILIES

The book looks at the diversity of families as it follows a family's outing to the zoo. It talks about how different families eat different types of food. For instance, some eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, while others eat pita bread and hummus. The book makes references to various types of families, such as same-sex, single-parent and extended ones.





Not NLB's role to promote ideology

I AM concerned by the National Library Board's removal of three children's books from its catalogue because of its "strong pro-family stand" ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves"; yesterday).

Any type of "stand" would necessitate removing many books that are currently in circulation.

For instance, the NLB's collection contains the writings of Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. Despite their morally objectionable content, these remain legitimate objects of study and thus ought to be made available to the public.

Under the National Library Board Act, one of the functions of the NLB is to "promote reading and encourage learning through the use of libraries and their services".

It is not for the NLB to promote any particular ideology in its choice of books; its role is only to promote access to information, and it is up to the readers to draw their own conclusions.

Learning can take place only when the public has access to as great a "marketplace of ideas" as possible, from which readers, and not the NLB, can separate acceptable ideas from the unacceptable ones.

Indeed, an intelligent public can be trusted not to take any book at face value.

Books are not just texts to be read and thought about; they, and society's views towards them, are social phenomena to be studied.

The interaction of books with Singaporean society - even if such interaction takes the form of disapproval - is part of the living history of our society.

Thus, I call on the NLB to restore the three books to its collection. People are, of course, free to disapprove of them, but that is their business, not the NLB's.

Moreover, they would perhaps find it easier to explain their disapproval to others if the public had ready access to these books.

Benjamin Joshua Ong
ST Forum, 10 Jul 2014





Not right forum for discussion

THE National Library Board has done the right thing by adopting a "pro-family and cautious approach" in identifying titles for young readers, and removing at least three controversial children's books that included references to single parents and same-sex couples ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves"; yesterday).

At the heart of the issue lies the question: What is "family"?

Some view "family" as based on a biological connection between a father, a mother and their children; others view it as an emotional union between committed people.

In 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong defined the "family" in Singapore as "one man, one woman marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit" ("Why we should leave Section 377A alone: PM"; Oct 24, 2007).

Recent surveys conducted by Our Singapore Conversation and the Institute of Policy Studies show that the majority of Singaporeans continue to hold this view, and for good reason.

Biologically, human reproduction requires the sexual complementarity of a man and a woman. Anthropologically, fathers and mothers are different and complementary. Sociologically, evidence shows that children fare best when raised by their married biological fathers and mothers.

Hence, the first definition of "family" affirms the right of every child to be raised by a father and a mother.

The NLB's move is consistent with the policy of the Ministry of Education.

In a 2009 statement, the ministry explained that schools do not promote alternative lifestyles to students, and that its framework for sexuality education reflects the "mainstream views and values of Singapore society, where the social norm consists of the married heterosexual family unit" ("Why MOE suspended Aware project"; May 7, 2009).

Children's books are not the right forum for a discussion on alternative lifestyles.

If activists wish to change the definition of "family", there are appropriate forums for discourse in a democratic society like Singapore, but the hearts and minds of children are not among them.

Darius Lee
ST Forum, 10 Jul 2014





Kids' books portray reality

THAT the National Library Board (NLB) has removed three children's titles because, according to some complainants, their contents are not "pro-family" raises three fundamental questions ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves"; yesterday).

First, what is the role of a good library? Is it not to expand the horizons of its readers?

The children's books that have been pulled off the shelves portray reality - there are numerous same-sex couples who have adopted children, as depicted in The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, while And Tango Makes Three retells the real-life story of two male penguins who formed a partnership.

To will these realities away simply because one disagrees with them makes a mockery of knowledge acquisition. This is especially so when parents have the liberty to disallow their children from reading these books, or to explain to them their version of an ideal family structure.

Second, the procedure to get library books banned seems arbitrary and open to abuse. Is a coordinated slew of angry e-mails sufficient to make the NLB yield?

Third, is it the NLB's mission to propagate "pro-family" children's books?

If the answer to the last question is "yes", then there are other titles that ought to be removed as they, too, are not "pro-family" - for example, Pinocchio because the puppet/child has no parents; and Cinderella since the heroine lives in a dysfunctional family with an evil stepmother and sisters, and abandons her family to live with a prince.

I am sure other readers will be able to provide a more comprehensive list of titles to be taken off the shelves, so that all children's books in our libraries will depict the "pro-family" structure of a father, a mother and their children.

Harvey Neo
ST Forum, 10 Jul 2014





Speak up against bigotry

I DO not know enough about the controversy over the withdrawal of three children's books to comment on the merits of the National Library Board's decision ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves"; yesterday), but I am unsettled by the increasingly hectoring stance adopted by certain pressure groups in pursuit of their own agenda under the guise of being "pro-family".

The term "pro-family" is nebulous and allows all sorts of mischief to be carried out in its name against virtually anyone.

If so-called alternative family structures are to be censored, should classic fairy tales like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty be yanked off the shelves too? One lives alone with seven unrelated single old men; the other is raised by two unmarried godmothers. We can certainly contrive to take umbrage with these stories for not promoting "family values".

Should Singapore's growing ranks of singletons, divorcees and single parents be pilloried or patronisingly "counselled" for not forming some arbitrarily defined "family unit"?

And what of the education and progressive empowerment of women? A growing majority of Singaporean women can now look forward to more life options apart from settling for kindly husbands to provide for their needs. Should education and gender equality then be rolled back for the sake of being "pro-family"?

While everyone is entitled to his opinion, society must speak out against self-appointed moral vigilantes who insist on imposing their narrow prejudices on the rest of us. Even if an issue does not personally concern us, we owe it to ourselves to speak out early and firmly against bigotry.

Francis Quek
ST Forum, 10 Jul 2014





Books helped reader feel accepted

I READ with grave concern the article ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves"; yesterday).

Growing up in the early 1980s as a child of divorced parents, I benefited from the books that the library carried; they made a positive impact on my life.

Within their pages, I was liberated from the "outside" world that would tell me that my family was not "normal" or "real" because my parents no longer lived under the same roof.

The books spoke of others like me who had atypical families but were no less legitimate. They helped me understand that though families may not all be alike, what truly makes a family is not the gender of the people involved, or the need to have a mother and a father, but rather love, care and sacrifice.

Those books helped me feel understood, accepted and less alone. They also cultivated in me an appreciation for those who stepped forward to be my family, to raise me, when it was probably easier to walk away.

It was this sense of gratitude and ties built over decades of nurturing and love that enabled us to continue to struggle along, especially when times were hard. This, to me, is the real meaning of what being "pro-family" is.

I hope the National Library Board will consider reinstating the three titles and continue to procure books that offer exposure and insights into this diverse world we live in. This access to knowledge, as I have experienced, can be life-changing.

Charmaine Vanessa Tan Mei-Li (Ms)
ST Forum, 10 Jul 2014





NLB’s banned children’s books reflect a facet of reality
Perry Tan, TODAY Voices, 10 Jul 2014

I was surprised that the National Library Board (NLB) removed two children’s books from its collection after it received complaints that the books were not “pro-family”.

One of the books, And Tango for Three, is based on a true story about two male penguins raising a baby penguin in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The other, The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, is about four families who adopted children – two were made up of heterosexual couples, one was a single-parent family and the last was a same-sex family.

One can surmise that the objection to these books was based on their purported references to homosexuality.

As an agnostic father of two young kids, married to a moderate Christian wife, I was intrigued by the complaint and disturbed that the NLB acted in favour of the complainant.

First, I have absolutely no problems exposing my children to stories and themes of homosexuality, because I believe it highlights a facet of reality: that there are sexual minorities in every society. If my kids turned out straight, I would like them to accord complete respect, empathy and acceptance to their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) friends.

More importantly, if my children turned out to be adults who belonged to a sexual minority, I would want them to be completely comfortable in their own skin. These books would allow me to inform my children at a young age of the diversity in what it means to be a family and would serve as an invaluable teaching resource.

Second, I am shocked that conservatives are acting as self-appointed vigilantes in the public space, policing what society as a whole should and should not read. While they have every right to adopt the views they choose to adopt, and keep their children away from books they deem inappropriate, they should not impose their values on the rest. Singapore is a secular state, and the NLB, as a statutory board, should act accordingly.

Third, the meaning and definition of “family” can be diverse, and it would serve everyone better if people can agree to disagree, than for one vocal minority to define the meaning of “family”.





Library books should not reflect values of only one group
Lin Shaojun, TODAY Voices, 10 Jul 2014

As the mother of a young child who visits the National Library, I read the National Library Board’s (NLB) decision to withdraw the books And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express from its catalogue with great dismay and alarm.

It appears that these two books were withdrawn due to feedback that their content was not in line with the NLB’s strong pro-family stance.

However, at the core of these two stories is the concept of family.

Thus, it would appear that the NLB has deemed the content of these books unacceptable not because it is not pro-family, but because the families depicted do not fit squarely with what some would consider a family.

Their withdrawal on this basis should be a cause for concern. It goes against the values of tolerance and the embracing of diversity — which we should strive to impart to children — while also imposing the values of a particular group on the masses.

Given that the books are pitched at a young audience with adult supervision to be expected, instead of withdrawing them, parents should be allowed to choose whether their children have access to them or not.

Parents should not rely solely on the NLB to police the content of the books which their children have access to. To do so would be grossly irresponsible.

At its heart are two beautifully-written books, which convey the tender message that families come in all shapes and sizes and that love knows no bounds.

I ask that the NLB reconsider its decision to withdraw these two books and ensure that children have access to a variety of books, not only those that echo the values of a particular group in society.





NLB has right to decide on its definition of family
Sherrie Chong, TODAY Voices, 11 Jul 2014

I refer to Ms Lin Shaojun’s letter “Library books should not reflect values of only one group” (July 10), which has correctly pointed out that the controversy surrounding the National Library Board’s (NLB) decision to withdraw two books from circulation revolves around the definition of a family.

While the definition and re-definition of a family have sparked off a global debate that is set to continue into the future, the NLB’s actions exemplify precisely what it means to live in a tolerant society that embraces diversity, counter-intuitive as it may sound.

The NLB has exercised its right to choose which viewpoint it seeks to represent, in accordance with the freedoms of a democratic society. Viewpoint diversity does not mean that the NLB abrogates its right to decide on the legitimate community interests it chooses to serve; and to that extent, to decide on a definition of a family that is most consistent with its policies.

In fact, the NLB’s definition of the family is consistent with the government’s pro-family stance, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong defined in 2007 as “one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit”.

The notion of tolerance does not mean that every view is equally valid; the call to tolerance cannot be used to affirm a myriad of contrary viewpoints and obscure fundamental issues. To tolerate something means that you have to disagree with it in the first place, but if one asserts that nobody should have the ability to pronounce right and wrong, it renders the concept of tolerance incoherent.

In this context, it means that there must be robust debate about the content of the controversy — which is first and foremost on the definition of the family — and not merely assert that the NLB is in no position to decide what that definition should be.

Restricting the circulation of books is not inconsistent with the values of free expression in a democracy.

For instance, the European Court of Human Rights allowed the ban of a children’s book, The Little Red Schoolbook, in the case of Handyside v United Kingdom, stating that although “the book contained factual information that was generally correct … the competent English judges were entitled, in the exercise of their discretion, to think at the relevant time that the book would have pernicious effects on the morals of many of the children and adolescents who would read it” and so allowed the UK’s ban of the children’s book.

In contrast, the books in the NLB controversy were merely withdrawn from public libraries and can still be purchased and read.

It is precisely because the books are pitched at a young audience that the NLB is right to restrict the books in its circulation to those that promote community norms. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.

Parents can still choose to expose their children to other content, but to insist that the NLB circulate books that are inconsistent with its own policies would be intolerant.





Protection from controversial ideas

THE fundamental structure of a house is its pillars. Likewise, the fundamental structure of a family is the father, mother and children.

Since time immemorial, family values have been based on this. Therefore, the National Library Board did the right thing by removing children's books that go against this principle ("NLB yanked out 3 other children's books"; yesterday).

If the NLB had done otherwise, then it would certainly have come across as promoting a political aim or, as Mr Benjamin Joshua Ong says, an ideology ("Not NLB's role to promote ideology"; yesterday).

The children's section in the library is visited by children of all ages. Young children are drawn to the pictures on book covers or their titles. They are not mature enough to "separate acceptable ideas from the unacceptable ones", and that is why there are rules in place to protect them from smoking, alcohol and other vices.

And because they are children, they should be protected from controversial ideas in library books that could influence them in a subtle way.

Some children are accompanied to the library by parents or grandparents who may not understand English. Hence, the books these children pick out cannot be vetted by their guardians, who have no reason to suspect that the library would carry books with controversial ideas.

Children have the tendency to trip and fall down, especially when their environment is cluttered. In the same way, developing minds should not be cluttered with stumbling blocks.

Adult life may present many challenges against traditional family values and fundamental truths, but the fact is that in our society, a marriage is between a man and a woman, and that when a male reproductive cell fuses with a female reproductive cell, a baby is formed - these are what children need to know.

Grace Chua Siew Hwee (Madam)
ST Forum, 11 Jul 2014





Sheltering kids does no good

I WAS shocked and disappointed to find out that the National Library Board pulled some children's books off its shelves because they were not "pro-family" ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves"; yesterday).

It is unfortunate that the NLB is attempting to shield children from different viewpoints regarding sexual orientation.

Some may claim that children should be protected from "unclean values", but this is causing them to grow up in a sheltered environment.

This is not ideal if we want them to grow up as well-informed young citizens who can contribute differing views based on individual opinions.

Such debate is extremely valuable as it contributes towards Singapore's progress as a country.

Also, by removing children's books that showcase various sexual orientations, we are subconsciously telling children that homosexuality is wrong and shameful.

By ingraining such an idea in them, there is the possibility that bullying cases against gays and lesbians in our society will increase. This undermines our efforts to build a more inclusive society that values and cares for everyone.

If the more conservative segment of our population is concerned about imparting "proper family values" to children, then the NLB could consider setting up a separate section for books such as And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption (above). A librarian could be situated nearby to clarify any doubts or misconceptions that the children may have regarding these books.

Eden Chua (Miss)
ST Forum, 11 Jul 2014





Library books should offer diverse perspectives

I WAS shocked to learn that there were parents who wanted the National Library Board to remove children's books that mentioned alternative family structures, and even more appalled that the NLB agreed to do so ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves", Wednesday; and "NLB yanked out 3 other children's books", yesterday).

Libraries should offer full information and different perspectives, especially on controversial issues. If we had one factual answer to "What is a family?", there would be no dispute in the first place.

However, the criticism of the NLB's move shows there are many Singaporeans who take a different view. We should try to understand the perspectives of all members of our society and find a compromise.

Therefore, libraries should have books that present diverse views, so children can see the world in its entirety.

It is understandable that parents wish for their children to adopt their views, and it is their responsibility to explain to their children what they think is right.

I see the NLB's move as an act of intolerance. In a very diverse society like Singapore, it is even more pertinent that issues be addressed in an open manner. This is similar to understanding differences in religious beliefs and accepting others' lifestyles, which does not equate to promoting them.

There are families in Singapore that do not conform to the nuclear family model, and teaching children that their classmates, who may be adopted or from single-parent families, ought to be shamed without understanding each individual's context is not the answer.

The books send the message that we should accept differences, and that there is hope of finding love and family (albeit different) for orphaned or unwanted children. Yes, there are depictions of non-nuclear families, but most people would not choose to be in them unless it was impossible for them to have a nuclear family.

These personal decisions, difficult and stressful in themselves, do not affect the daily lives of nuclear families. By the same argument, these alternative families are not and should not be pushing for their type of family structure to be the only correct way to live.

Thus, I hope these books and similar books can be left on library shelves. After all, people have the freedom to either read them or ignore them.

Alyssa Ang (Miss)
ST Forum, 11 Jul 2014





What is NLB's role in community?

I AM disappointed with the National Library Board's knee-jerk reaction to a library user's complaint that two children's books were not "pro-family" ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves"; Wednesday).

The question here is not about the NLB's self-proclaimed "strong pro-family stand". This was never stated as its mission or vision on its website.

Neither is this about the different views on sexual orientation, single parenthood, marriage and so on, for there are other social issues that have drawn differing views.

What I am concerned about is the role that NLB intends to take on. Was withdrawing the books the only way to address the issue? Or was it the only way to appease those who complained? What happens when another group demands that NLB remove books on a different social issue? Is it going to do the same thing?

A good library is one that provides the catalyst, in the form of books, for discussions on social issues. As a public institution, the NLB should provide a space that promotes a healthy exchange of views and ideas, a space where one seeks to understand and be understood.

I hope the NLB reflects on the role it intends to play in our community.

Goh Wee Ling (Ms)
ST Forum, 11 Jul 2014





IT'S MORE THAN JUST BOOKS
Libraries should promote learning, not police values
By Carol Soon, Published The Straits Times, 11 Jul 2014

ON WEDNESDAY, news of the National Library Board's (NLB) withdrawal of some books was reported in the mainstream media. The NLB's move was a response to feedback from a patron that the books go against the "pro-family" ethos of Singapore society as they dealt with same-sex partners.

By noon, reactions to what NLB did spread online, with at least two individuals setting up petitions calling for the library board to resume circulation of the books. While the NLB's move has attracted some support, the castigation directed at it via blogs, social media and its feedback page was glaringly obvious. The dismay towards the NLB has increased since it announced at a press conference yesterday that the books will go through a "discarding process" where they will be pulped.

The criticisms against NLB's move run the gamut from the philosophical to the material. It has fuelled the ongoing debate on the different interpretations of the term "pro-family". It has also led to a discussion about the freedom of people to read what they want, who should bear the responsibility of managing a child's reading diet (the library or the parent) to whether it foreshadows the culling of more books deemed offensive by some (would self-help books on coping with divorce and single parenting be the next to go, some wonder).

The storm brewing around this incident is not unique to Singapore. Censorship - defined by the American Library Association as excluding, restricting or removing materials - is an ongoing tussle even in liberal countries such as Norway, Sweden and the United States.

Despite the Library Bill of Rights, libraries in the US have received challenges by members of the public to remove books including "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn" (racial stereotypes), "The Catcher In The Rye" (sexual promiscuity and vulgarity) and the Harry Potter series (the occult and disrespect to authority).

Libraries in the US are governed by the Bill which stipulates that "books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves". It also states that "libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues" and that "materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval". In this spirit, libraries have stood up against complaints and even public attacks.

In the midst of the ongoing debate, I would like to bring back into focus the often overlooked contribution of public libraries to our society. During the Institute of Policy Studies' flagship conference Singapore Perspectives 2014, Minister of State (Education, and Communications and Information) Sim Ann spoke about developing empathy to deal with an increasingly diverse society and how literature could be a tool to cultivate that quality.

A public library cannot compel people to weigh different views equally, without bias and based on evidence. But it is society's best shot at getting access to wide-ranging informational resources that can empower people to take part in discussions that yield productive outcomes for themselves and society.

Last year, I wrote an article questioning if we have what it takes for the Government and citizens to talk to one another. I had argued that in order to have meaningful conversations, people need to have access to information. In this way, they come armed not just with enthusiasm to contribute to policy-making but also with facts and reason.

Political scientist James Fishkin, widely cited for his work on deliberative democracy, has identified five elements integral to legitimate deliberation. They include making accurate information and relevant data available to all participants, and attaining substantive balance where different positions are compared based on their supporting evidence. There is also a need to allow for diversity, where all major positions relevant to the matter are considered, and the practice of conscientiousness, in which participants sincerely weigh all arguments. Finally, equal consideration should be given to views based on evidence and not on the people who advocate those views.

Singapore's public libraries have done well in this respect. Providing free annual memberships for Singaporeans and permanent residents (with a nominal one-time registration fee for the latter), the NLB's numerous branches ensure that the charming playfulness of P.G. Wodehouse, the imagination of J.R. Tolkien and the iridescence of Aristotle are within everyone's reach, regardless of the size of his or her pocket.

Besides being a bastion of knowledge, public libraries also enable Singaporeans to participate more effectively in building a better society for all. To be engaged citizens who understand trade-offs and propose expedient solutions requires that we be exposed to information and viewpoints that at times may challenge what we hold dear. Critical thinking skills are best honed when we are exposed to contradictory ideas, data and dogmas.

Our public libraries, with their richly varied offerings, expose us to the unfamiliar, the unknown and the untested, challenging our assumptions and fostering critical minds.

Perhaps, the public library is a microcosm of today's society, a place where different values, cultures and philosophies come under one roof. In the face of clashing ideals, the NLB ought to leave the moral policing to the larger heterogeneous public, who should have a chance to articulate their views on what is offensive or not.

Other institutions exist to promote moral values. Our libraries should stay true to their core principles of promoting learning and literacy, and use these as their guiding light.

To quote from the poet T.S. Eliot: "The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man".

The writer is a Research Fellow with the Arts, Culture and Media cluster at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.






Preserve common space or regress to a feuding society
Magdelene Sim Jialing, TODAY Voices, 12 Jul 2014

The knee-jerk reactions to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issue here are tiring, repetitive and, above all, disrupt the peace and stability we are known to have in our diverse community.

Our national pledge was written in 1966, when diversity largely took the form of race, language or religion. Its formula has worked because we chose to respect a common space for all to coexist peacefully, regardless of our differences and beliefs.

One would like to believe that society has now progressed and matured, that this common space can extend to all differences, more than only race, language and religion.

The LGBT issue appears to threaten this common space but, in my view, has been blown out of proportion. There is fear of the LGBT community and what they allegedly seek to promote.

Phrases such as “pro-family” or the LGBT community’s “organised campaign” are used loosely to keep them away from our common space. But what have the LGBT community here sought to achieve other than peaceful coexistence and the right to be who they are?

If the fear is that they want more, such as legalised same-sex marriage, not a single LGBT person I have spoken to thinks this will happen in Singapore. If they wanted more legal rights, they would simply go overseas.But they have stayed despite the odds they face here because this is home, where their friends and family are.

All they ask for is to be loved and for people to say: “Hey, he/she is in love with someone who is not whom I thought it would be, but we all have the freedom to love who we want.”

Is that too much to give them? And what exactly is “pro-family”? Does it end at the legal union of one man and one woman? What about promoting sustainable relationships within that framework?

Society is adversely affected when marriages break down and children grow up in broken homes or environments with marital strife. However, it appears that the LGBT community is being singled out in a world of vice and many things that are wrong.

There is no hierarchy of sins. Our young are exposed to and surrounded by real people or characters in dramas, films and books who are adulterous, engage in casual sex or undergo abortions.

If we are intent on protecting them from “wrong” values, then we might as well call for a ban of more than only a few library books. Condoms and lubricants on supermarket shelves, really?

In our globalised world, do we pretend that the LGBT community does not exist here and shield our children from them?

Or do we teach our children to respect differences from young and coexist with people who are different, all within a common space?

Being mature means being inclusive and respecting differences. It is important for our peace and stability that we preserve our common space. We should mature together as a nation, not regress into a feuding, fragmented society soaked in tension.





Book caused stir in America too

THE National Library Board has done the right thing by removing some controversial children's books from its shelves ("NLB pulls 3 kids' books off its shelves", Wednesday; and "NLB yanked out 3 other children's books", Thursday). In doing so, it has fulfilled its social obligations to the community.

Some have questioned the role of the NLB and insisted that the books be reinstated; others deem the NLB's move to be outright "public censorship".

In fact, one of the books, And Tango Makes Three, has been among the most banned books in public libraries and schools across the United States, which has long been known to be an open and liberal Western society.

Published in 2005, the book is based on a true story of a couple of male penguins in a New York zoo that were given an egg to raise. It topped the American Library Association's list of most challenged books in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Over the years, there have been campaigns against the book, which included efforts to have it restricted to the "mature" section of libraries and removed altogether from school libraries in the US.

Complex homosexuality issues in animals and in some humans have long existed, with few clear-cut answers from the scientific world.

Most discerning adults can make out right from wrong, but it is not so with young children, who lack maturity.

The question that needs to be asked is whether such controversial children's books with themes on the union of same-sex couples are "overly mature" for young children.

Some kinds of knowledge, such as that on sexuality, should not be introduced so early in a young child's life. I am quite certain that was what the American community and families must have felt when they openly objected to And Tango Makes Three being placed in public libraries.

Ada Chan Siew Foen (Ms)
ST Forum, 12 Jul 2014





What's at stake in NLB controversy

MANY Forum writers commenting on the National Library Board's (NLB) decision to remove children's books deemed to be not "pro-family" are mistaken on three fundamental points.

First, there is a fine line between understanding and approving. While we understand the reality of divorcees and single parents, we need not approve of such families as the benchmark for all families in Singapore.

Second, the books promoting controversial family units were found in the children's section, where they could be read by impressionable young children.

Seeking understanding is good, but what happens when the reader is unable to differentiate between understanding and approving?

It is not a matter of censorship. Materials on controversial family units can be found outside of the children's section. Neither is it a matter of bigotry as the NLB does not have books condemning such family units. In fact, the term "bigotry" itself is nebulous and is used to silence anyone with a contrary opinion.

The crux of the matter is that the moral compass of future Singapore is being written right now on the minds of our next generation. Society has a say in what values should be promoted to our children, and indeed we have spoken. Since the majority of Singaporeans have already expressed their support for the traditional family unit in the public space, we should not circumvent this expression of values by sneaking in controversial materials into the children's section to confuse our young ones. When our children have graduated from the children's section, they can make their own decisions. And as future parents, they can make decisions for their own children.

Third, our libraries are not mindless depositories of books. The NLB needs to strike a difficult balance involving a limited budget and an ever-increasing variety of books to acquire.

The NLB itself is not devoid of ideology. As a statutory board, its role has to be consistent with the Government's stance on the family, which, to paraphrase Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is made up of one man and one woman raising children together.

Ultimately, the issue is not about removing fairy tales. It is about removing material promoting values that Singaporeans do not want their children to be exposed to.

I acknowledge that it is not easy to run good libraries. Therefore, the NLB's decision is to be applauded.

Daniel Lee Jun Yong
ST Forum, 12 Jul 2014





Examine our societal norms instead of blaming NLB

THE National Library Board's (NLB) removal of children's books portraying unconventional families has sparked much controversy and criticism from netizens and authors. Indeed, after the news broke, many took to social media platforms to express their disapproval.

While it is heartening to see so many Singaporeans rallying behind a cause, it is unfair to criticise the NLB as it was only following societal norms.

Being an organisation that seeks to serve the community, it naturally follows the norms and values prevalent in society.

The decision to remove the books was not the result of an isolated incident, but rather a series of recurring complaints that would indicate that such titles were deemed to be inappropriate by a large portion of our community. So the decision to remove the books merely reflects Singapore's prevailing attitudes towards unconventional families.

As a new generation of liberal-thinking young people comes of age, we should not forget that Singapore remains a largely conservative society where many value and celebrate traditional norms and practices.

Instead of criticising the NLB, supporters of gay rights should instead examine the root cause of the issue: How we, as a collective society, view unconventional families.

Zhang Siyuan
ST Forum, 15 Jul 2014





Adopt balanced approach

TRADITIONAL families often did not comprise one man, one woman and their natural children. In the old days, early deaths from war, sickness or childbirth were common, resulting in single-parent families, families with step-parents and step-siblings, and those with adopted children (it was common for spinsters to adopt children to raise as their own).

In Chinese culture, it was appropriate for a man to have multiple wives who each bore multiple children. Many of us have ancestors who had more than one wife, and some religions today still accept polygamy.

The Women's Charter in Singapore resulted in polygamy no longer being recognised as legal, something that most women are grateful for. Societal norms change over time and continue to do so.

There is no need to explain to children what a family is; it is something they experience, whatever form it takes. As they grow up, they become aware that families are different - for example, some children live with only one parent.

Usually, it is unnecessary to learn this from books. For most children, the story of two male penguins bringing up a baby penguin would not make them think of homosexuality if they are not aware of what it is. There is no reason to believe they would want to emulate such a family, any more than watching The Lion King would make them think that polygamy is normal in humans.

If someone is heterosexual, he or she is not going to become homosexual by being exposed to these books as a young child. If someone is homosexual, the reality of not being accepted by some members of society would more than make up for any possible "encouragement" that these books may give.

So is it really necessary to destroy the children's books and not even allow them to be sold? ("Books will not be given away"; Sunday).

I am pro-family, neither atheist nor agnostic, and I have no intention of promoting homosexual lifestyles. But that does not mean I have to be anti-homosexual.

Homosexuality is less of a threat to families than adultery, yet there is less organised activity against the latter.

Let us be more balanced in our approach. Let us not import from other countries the partisan and intransigent positions taken on various issues. Let us find ways to engage cordially, as we have done on issues of race and religion.

Caroline Chee (Ms)
ST Forum, 15 Jul 2014





'Cot bumper approach' to raising kids won't work
By Lim Sun Sun, Published The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2014

I APPLAUD the parent who cared enough about his children's media exposure that he demanded that the library remove And Tango Makes Three from its collection. As a parent myself, and as an academic who champions greater parental involvement in children's media consumption, I am often dismayed at the lackadaisical approach that parents take in such matters.

However, I also caution against what I call the "cot bumper approach" to parental mediation of children's media use. Remember when your infant child lay innocently in the cot, gazing at the colourful mobile suspended above, surrounded by lovingly chosen cloth books meant to stimulate his cognitive development? In those heady days of growth, your child was also cushioned against any kinds of bruises, abrasions and injuries because you had thoughtfully lined the crib with padded cot bumpers.

With complete control over where your child rolled and what your child viewed, yours was the beatific face of comfort and authority that she cooed at daily.

Fast forward to today where your child has a mind and body of his own, and he is free to download from a dizzying array of phone apps, to click on any of the one billion websites and counting, and to roam through the library to pick out books independently. Clearly, the blissfully simple days of enveloping your child with cot bumpers and cloth books are long gone.

In today's bewilderingly complex media landscape, your child is inundated with a panoply of messages. Some of these messages are insightful and edifying, others are banal and frivolous, but most of them are also unmoderated, unregulated, and unpoliced. Much of the media we currently consume no longer involves gatekeepers, appointed arbiters of quality and decency who have final say over what is fit to print or air. Instead, user-generated content is increasingly dominant, be it in the form of personal tweets, Internet memes, self-published books or home videos shared online.

An amateur video of a reading of And Tango Makes Three, for example, is freely available for download from YouTube. Yes, ours is a capricious and unpredictable world where no one can foretell what will next go viral on our personal newsfeeds.

So how then is a parent to shield a child in this cacophonous media environment, to protect him from the adverse influences, discordant voices, and alternative views that run counter to the ideals that you hold dear?

Well, you may be able to effect the removal of a handful of library books, and to successfully lobby for some objectionable websites to be banned, but you will be unable to pulp every single Internet post that you abhor. As heroic as we appear to our children, we parents are ultimately limited in our capabilities. We cannot cover our children's eyes from everything we do not want them to see, block out the voices we do not want them to hear, or hoover up all the dangerous ideas that have been inscribed on paper.

But here is a reassuring thought for all parents. Mortal as we parents are, you and I singularly hold the power to vest in our children the values we want to guide them through every obstacle in life. Irrespective of your political leanings, and regardless of your religious affiliation or sexual orientation, you hold the key to building your child's defences against perspectives that contradict the beliefs that you subscribe to, and that you want your children to subscribe to. You can interpret, moderate and mediate for your child the media content that he is confronted with.

But parental mediation is not a process that is straightforward or that can be completed overnight. Instead, it is an ongoing journey of trust, sharing, discussion, and debate. Rather than obliterate all opinions that you consider deleterious, embrace each alternative view as an opportunity to rationalise to your child why you disagree with it.

If you spot a library book you do not like, explain why! If you are offended by a scene in a television show, unpack it for your child! Foster a relationship of mutual respect and understanding where your child knows that she can turn to you when she encounters messages that are confusing or upsetting.

Instil in your child the skills of discernment that will see him through every PG movie, First-Person shooter video game or inflammatory online comment.

Impress upon your child that she has the autonomy to choose what she reads, sees, and hears, and that even if none of it coheres with her beliefs, that she has the resilience to make sense of it all.

Much ink has been spilt and Internet bandwidth spent on the National Library Board's decision to remove some children's titles from its shelves. But long after the read-ins have disbanded and the Facebook campaigns evaporated, the greater tragedy of the And Tango Makes Three affair is the erroneous message sent to young Singaporeans - that any perspective which runs counter to your own can and should be silenced by a higher authority, be it your parent or a government agency. As caring parents, we would hardly wish to mislead our children on this point now, would we?

Dr Lim Sun Sun is associate professor in the Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore.





Spare libraries when people are at odds
Editorial, The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2014

IN THE flap over the banning of three children's books by the National Library Board, what started out as a conservative-liberal tug of war, centred on homosexuality and non-traditional families, has grown into a contretemps about "book burning" censorship which has drawn a wider swathe of disputants. The NLB, however, does not burn but pulps books that it finds objectionable, so the offending items are "no longer in existence". This is the image that fair- minded library users will find disconcerting. One can understand the disposal of public property considered unusable but the emphatic destruction of books which librarians, of all people, should love is hard to fathom.

A pertinent issue is the manner in which an acquired book, among the NLB's collection of five million books and multimedia items, is deemed undesirable. The board receives 20 complaints about book titles every year and each can trigger a review by librarians and senior management. They are guided by NLB's collection development policy and librarians' perception of the "concerns of the community". These are reasonable steps, not least in a disparate society like ours, but clearly insufficient. A more consultative approach is needed, bearing in mind the role of the 25 public libraries as social spaces for the young and old to browse.

It is heartening that the people who gathered at the National Library atrium last Sunday were mainly those who cared about reading. But it would have been far more edifying if people, including librarians, had congregated to discuss the wider issue of turning libraries into arenas for those espousing different values and lifestyles to joust for space.

Such a discussion would have revealed that books in themselves are often not the bone of contention - as the flow of ideas and knowledge should be celebrated by all. What deserves deeper reflection is the conflicts that arise when individuals and groups fret over what should and should not be read. The urge to purge runs deep and long everywhere, and it is not surprising that libraries to get caught in the crossfire.

In the United States, the Library Bill of Rights and community mandates offer scope for a professional practice of librarianship to develop. This acknowledges that librarians ought to become less arbiters of cultural content and taste and more facilitators of access to a world of knowledge and learning. Nonetheless, professional judgment will always be required as selection is an inevitable feature of any collection. Some exclusions are justifiable, for example, hate literature. But across a wider terrain, if moral policing is made part of the remit of the library, it would sit uncomfortably with the aim of fostering a love of knowledge and reading.





The dilemma facing public libraries
By Kwa Chong Guan, Published The Straits Times, 14 Jul 2014

THE ongoing controversy over the National Library Board's decision to take three titles off its shelves should be seen as part of a perennial debate all societies engage in - about what they believe, value and reaffirm they are prepared to stand up for.

The titles were removed after queries from at least one reader over whether they were suitable for children. The titles are: And Tango Makes Three, based on a true story of two male penguins which hatched an egg in a New York Zoo; The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, featuring a lesbian couple among others; and Who's In My Family? All About Our Families, which features various family structures.

A similar debate could have, and has, arisen from local drama productions, or episodes in TV programmes. It could even arise from a painting exhibited in one of our museums.

I should declare at the outset that I am a member of the National Library Board (NLB), but that my views in this article do not represent those of the board.

NLB's decision to remove the three titles from the shelves of the children's section of one of its public libraries - and to pulp or destroy the books - was the catalyst for this round of the perennial debate. Public opinion reflected in the letters to the Forum page of The Straits Times appears divided between support and disapproval of the NLB's decision.

The argument against the NLB's actions assumes that libraries are repositories of knowledge that societies need to function and survive. Libraries serve their societies by helping their diverse groups learn more about themselves, about others, and the world around them.

Libraries should be about the promotion of knowledge and learning, not restricting the flow of information. Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Carol Soon's commentary in this paper last Friday articulates this argument well, and concludes that libraries should not be the judge of what is appropriate information to be disseminated. What role should a library play?

National repository

FIRST, as a national and reference library, like all other national libraries, Singapore's National Library tries to collect everything about Singapore and its surrounding environment. Either via legal deposit, under which a copy of everything published in Singapore is deposited in the National Library, or via systematic collection policies, the library tries to collect as much as possible of what is published about Singapore or relevant to helping Singaporeans come to terms with a rapidly changing world.

The challenge is not whether a book is offensive and not collected, but whether the National Library is collecting enough. Should the National Library bid at an international auction for a rare 16th century Dutch atlas with maps of insulae Indiae Orientalis (as our world was then known to Europeans) which would help us understand how this island was seen by 16th-century Europeans?

Or, should we subscribe to, for example, a new database on climate change and energy security, that would shed light on how the choices we make for a secure, stable and sustainable supply of energy have an impact on global warming and climate change and ultimately the survival of our planet?

Difficult choices have to be made about what the National Library collects. But the difficulty does not lie in discerning the sensibilities of the library's patrons and readers over its choice of particular books, but rather in determining what is relevant and necessary knowledge to understand ourselves and our evolving world.

Social spaces

THOSE who support NLB's decision to take these three titles off its shelves may have in mind the notion that libraries are social spaces serving the needs and interests of local communities and as such, should be mindful of the sensitivities of its constituents.

This is essentially the position of Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim when he said on Friday that "public libraries serve the community and it is right that they give consideration to community norms".

The 25 public libraries scattered across Singapore have a slightly different mandate from the National Library. While the latter is seen more as a reference library and repository of publications about Singapore and the region, the former are social spaces for the community where they can pick up books, browse, or engage in a range of activities related to books and learning. The NLB's public libraries have to be mindful of the sensitivities of its constituents.

Balancing the interests and values of different groups of constituents about what books they would like to see on library shelves is a hard task for not only our public libraries, but also all other public libraries. As Dr Soon notes, libraries in the United States have received requests to take down books like The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn because of its racial stereotypes, or The Catcher In The Rye for its sexual promiscuity and vulgarity. Responding to complaints about inappropriate content of some books is part of the work routine of public librarians, especially now with readers becoming more vocal and demanding.

As Dr Yaacob wrote on his Facebook page: "This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that public institutions like NLB find themselves facing such a controversy."

Arenas for public debate

WHETHER they like it or not, libraries as social spaces are also becoming arenas for public debate about what the books on the library shelves say about the values and norms of the community.

The library can take the position that it takes no position on dictating the reading choices of its readers. After all, reading, as the political philosopher John Stuart Mill argued, is a "self-regarding act". It is something one can choose to do or not to do: to go or not to go to the library and what books to read or not read.

But deciding that the content of a particular book is offensive and wanting it to be removed from the shelves is an "other-regarding action" which affects others who may want to read such a book.

The library then becomes the arena for a debate initiated by the "other-regarding actions" of readers about the library's collections. It may ultimately not be a debate about the content of the book, but about the library's response to "other-regarding actions" of its readers.

In this respect, in hindsight, the NLB could have been more reflective and measured in its response to the complaints about the three titles it removed. The decision-making process could be more consultative. Such a consultative process may have recognised that the books are perhaps not that problematic.

Certainly the decision to "pulp" the books may be in accordance with government procedures for disposing of unwanted items, but it was an unfortunate choice of words in this context.

Our public libraries will have to learn how to better manage such debates.

The writer is with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and a member of the National Library Board.





Public bodies' role in a plural society
What is one to make of the controversy over the National Library Board's banning and pulping of three children's books? One writer says there was a failure to seek a compromise; another shares her experience reading a book about divorce with her little girl.
By Tan Dawn WeiThe Straits Times, 17 Jul 2014

FIRST of all, this book-banning saga by the National Library Board (NLB) is not about a group of concerned Christians agitating to remove children's books that offend their sensibilities and which they worry will teach the wrong values to children.

It is not even about why the NLB has to pulp the books when it could easily donate or sell them to individuals, charities or organisations - a decision that has enraged not just those who oppose the removal but even moderates who have been sitting on the fence on the issue.

Rather, it is about how a public institution should manage differences in a pluralistic society. NLB is in the hot seat this time; but the same could certainly happen to any other organisation.

The unravelling began when someone claimed on an anti-gay Facebook page named "We are against Pinkdot in Singapore" that getting NLB to drop books from its collection was quick and easy - you need only send a complaint via e-mail, as he did. So keep doing it, he suggested.

When news broke last Tuesday about the NLB's decision to remove the books, the push-back over the censorship was immense; even the board's chief executive, Ms Elaine Ng, admitted she did not expect the matter to blow up so much.

But that immediate outpouring of indignation was not so much targeted at the conservative lobbyists as it was at the library's seemingly arbitrary and swift removal of the books in response to a few demanding e-mails.

What was so repugnant about the books that drove NLB, a non-partisan, non-discriminatory and secular institution, to pull them off the shelves and destroy them with such alacrity?

The removal of these books could be viewed by some as a proclamation of zero-tolerance of depictions of non-traditional families by NLB, where portrayals of children of same-sex parents, single-parents or adoptive parents in some books are denied a place on its shelves.

Organised effort

WHAT is one to make of this saga? One interpretation is that it shows how a group of individuals can organise themselves to lobby public institutions to conform to its own set of values - in this case, to get NLB to ban books it considers not "pro-family".

If so, then there's an urgent need for government agencies to have clear policies for dealing with such pressures and to put in place decision-making processes that are transparent, consensual and well-communicated.

How might public agencies respond to moral policing from segments of the public?

Back in 1988, when the censors caved in to pressure from the Christian and Muslim communities and banned both the book and film adaptation of The Last Temptation Of Christ, former deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam wrote to The Straits Times Forum letters page.

He said Singapore had been spared racial and religious wars because "the Government had the courage always to be on the side of sanity against the intolerance of the hysterical". He warned that "placating religious hysteria is the surest way of encouraging religious intolerance and, therefore, of religious civil wars".

In contrast to the NLB, another public organisation behaved very differently. The Health Promotion Board came under intense pressure from Christian and Muslim groups which objected to the organisation's list of frequently asked questions on sexuality.

It stood firm on its explanation of same-sex relationships and how to deal with them. It was meant to provide advice to youngsters and their parents from a public health perspective, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong when asked about it in Parliament.

To observers, the episode showed that HPB understood that its overarching mission is to provide information - it accepted that same-sex relationships exist and dispensed advice without moral approval or disapproval.

As has been pointed out by others, this book-banning saga is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that public institutions are caught in the crossfire of a culture war.

One only has to look at the United States to see how issues such as abortion and creationism have split its society at all levels.

In navigating this ongoing conflict, the bigger picture needs to be considered: namely, the role of public institutions in a pluralistic society. For the NLB, one compromise option could be to keep the controversial books in a separate section requiring parents to be present, as suggested by many in the wake of this fiasco.

This would allay the concerns of those who consider the books unsuitable for children, while keeping them available to those who see them as valuable materials to educate their children.

Such a compromise solution is one way that a public institution can ensure that no single segment of society is unfairly privileged over another, thereby upholding Singapore's true values of tolerance, diversity and inclusivity.

It is these values, not moral considerations of sexuality or family, that public institutions should use as their guiding principle.





Hri Kumar: Children's books with homosexual content should be reclassified, not destroyed
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 16 Jul 2014

Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair became the first member of the ruling party to speak out against the National Library Board's (NLB) decision to pulp three children's books for their homosexual content.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday night, Mr Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said he did not think that "destroying books is akin to censorship, and that all censorship is bad", but said that "the real question is whether homosexuality falls in that category which should be excluded".

"I do not believe homosexuality falls in the category of issues which should be excluded," he wrote. "In fact, neither does the NLB. It says it carries such books in the Adult section....Excluding such books, or worse, destroying them, sends an altogether different and confusing message about the role of the NLB."

He proposed a solution of placing the books in a separate section, "which children can only access with an adult present - much like a 'PG' movie".





Disagree without being disagreeable

THE withdrawal of five writers from events involving the National Library Board was an unfortunate consequence of its decision to pulp certain children's books deemed to be not "pro-family" ("Five writers pull out of NLB-involved events"; last Saturday).

But if the NLB had kept the books on the shelves, the other camp could now be campaigning to boycott libraries.

So, no matter what decision it makes, some will be pleased while others will be angered.

While competing human interests in a pluralistic society are to be expected, problems arise when decisions have to be made. And when other viewpoints prevail over ours, we need to respect the freedom of conscience and inalienable rights of the other side.

Protesting by withdrawing from a scheduled event is a form of blackmail that does not help in engagement.

The Health Promotion Board staff who posted answers to frequently asked questions about homosexuality, and the NLB staff who purchased the controversial children's books, should be protected by their organisations, even if their decisions were wrong. Civil servants must not be paralysed in their decision-making by the fear of sparking another culture war.

As Singapore matures as a society, the deep fissure in our values will increasingly show itself in our response to public policies. The manner in which we participate in public discourse, the respect we show to our opponents, and the way we react when we "lose" show who we are as a people and the kind of society we want.

If we seek pluralism that accommodates and respects diverse voices, and checks excesses resulting from unfettered expression of certain interest groups, we must learn to "give and take" and cultivate the right manners in civic interactions for the common good.

Seto Hann Hoi (Dr)
ST Forum, 17 Jul 2014





Beyond compromise, a bigger debate on library board's role
By Tan Dawn Wei, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2014

THE past week must have been one of the roughest faced by the National Library Board (NLB). Public controversies that threaten to polarise the populace are rare on this island, more so when it involves benign, nurturing public institutions such as our libraries.

It may be precisely because of this genial image that our libraries have that the feelings of betrayal and hurt were so strong for those on both sides of the saga - for the library is an institution that many have grown up with and come to love.

While one side saw the presence of books they found offensive as a let-down in the library's duty to serve the nation and families, others saw the removal of the books as a turning-back on the fundamental responsibility of the institution to educate, a capitulation to unreasonable voices in society.

Both sides saw their rights as every bit as legitimate as the other; both sides considered themselves stakeholders in the library and the nation.

With the controversy escalating by the day, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim has stepped in with a compromise solution. While those who expressed strong opinions about the issue could be broadly divided among those who want the children's books banned, those who desire easy access, and those who recoiled at the thought of books being destroyed, the compromise solution offered by Dr Yaacob appears to be aimed mainly at the last group, that is, those who find it hard to stomach the pulping.

This was hinted at in his statement: We stand by NLB's decision to remove the three books from the children's section. NLB will continue to ensure that books in the children's section are age-appropriate. But he understood the reactions to news of the pulping, "which reflect a deep-seated respect in our culture for the written word".

Hence, two of the banned books will be rescued from the recycling bin and placed in the adult section. As for the third book, well, it's already been pulped.

Is this enough to heal the wounds? It's certainly a start, and it does a reasonable job of signalling to stakeholders that the Government does listen.

But this compromise is unlikely to be a sustainable solution to dealing with competing demands from increasingly strident voices in the future, a natural result of a changing, increasingly complex social milieu.

The decision to allow the two books back, this time on the adult shelves, is not a difficult one to make, nor will the execution require much effort. What is more crucial is what is done to address the existing weaknesses in the system, and how to develop a set of guiding principles that is fair and inclusive.

For a start, NLB needs to make its screening and review process a transparent one that will stand up to scrutiny and that has the buy-in from most of the population. Whether books get put on or pulled off the shelves should not be based entirely on the decision of a small handful of librarians.

With 27 million visitors to the 25 public libraries a year, one can imagine that the reading diet, tastes and appetites would surely be as varied as that for food served at our hawker centres.

With a precedent set for controversial children's books to be placed on the adult shelves, it remains to be seen if more of such books will make it through. Or will NLB tighten up at the acquisition stage for fear of history repeating itself?

But while we may have crossed one hurdle now, the larger "values" debate is still left hanging, as is the ideological argument of whether the library should be in the business of playing moral police.

The values debate is here and will resurface time and again. This episode could offer an opportunity to restart that difficult conversation that we have been avoiding.

If not, the best one can hope for is that public institutions have now gotten a reminder about the importance of maintaining a secular shared space, and of being perceived to do so. And that Singaporeans have learnt a bit more about being responsible and engaged citizens.





* NLB to keep review and buying teams separate
Move will boost public confidence in the review process, says Yaacob
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 5 Aug 2014

THE National Library Board (NLB), embroiled in a recent controversy over books with homosexual content, has taken steps to improve the way it reviews its books.

One major move is that the team selecting books for its 25 public libraries and the team reviewing them will be different.

This is not clearly spelt out now, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said in Parliament yesterday. He believes segregating these responsibilities will "lead to greater public confidence in the review process".



He also highlighted two other changes the NLB is looking into.

One is the setting up of an external advisory panel to evaluate potentially controversial titles and the other is to consider options other than just destroying books deemed unsuitable.

The upcoming panel, he said, should represent a cross-section of society and include members from the literary community.

But the final decision of keeping or withdrawing a title should still lie with the NLB, he added.

As for books withdrawn owing to controversial content, he said NLB will consider other options such as placing them in another section, or putting them up for sale or donation. NLB's current practice is to pulp books withdrawn for being worn and torn.

Last month, its decision to remove three children's titles with homosexual content, after it received some public complaints, and pulp them caused a major uproar. It subsequently reinstated two titles - And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express - but in the adult collection.

The saga led to a string of questions in Parliament from MPs.

In his 15-page reply, Dr Yaacob explained, among other things, how NLB selects and reviews books. Special care is taken for the children's section as many browse the shelves unsupervised, he added. He also said And Tango Makes Three, which features two male penguins raising a chick, was acquired in 2005. It went through an internal review in 2009 and was retained in the children's section. NLB was then under the leadership of Dr N. Varaprasad.

In making the 2009 decision, Dr Yaacob said "(NLB) was looking at perhaps the discussion at that point in time. Things have changed, a fresh pair of eyes took a look at the book again, there was feedback from the public, and (NLB) decided maybe it was not appropriate for us to have the book in the children's section".

Making such assessments is "not an exact science" and those doing so may have their own opinions, he added. In reviewing books, NLB takes into account community norms, he said. "It is not NLB's mandate to challenge or seek to change these norms."

Nominated MP Janice Koh asked if there was only one standard set of community norms NLB bases its policies on.

Dr Yaacob replied: "The norms will change over time and therefore we rely on government polls and feedback channels... and 'Meet the Customer' sessions NLB has held from time to time."

He also cited a 2013 Our Singapore Conversation study which shows 55 per cent of 4,000 people surveyed rejected same-sex marriage; 24 per cent were neutral and 21 per cent accepted it. Also, a government survey shows 52 per cent of 843 people polled feel books not in line with traditional family values should not be in public libraries' children's sections.

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) noted that an Archie comic issue, banned from bookstores by the Media Development Authority (MDA) for depicting same-sex marriage, is available in Singapore's public libraries.

Dr Yaacob said the MDA's decision should not automatically determine NLB's position. The reason, he added, is that bookshops here "are open to all patrons and there are no age restrictions at the point of sale".

Public libraries, however, have different collections, and this gives it some flexibility to place some materials deemed unsuitable for one age group in another section, he said.




















* NLB saga: Author defends controversial book
Characters in White Swan Express reflect her pro-family values, she says
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

JEAN Davies Okimoto's children's book, The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, made headlines last year when the National Library Board (NLB) pulled it off the shelves after receiving complaints that it was not pro-family.

It tells the story of four different families, including a lesbian couple who adopt a Chinese baby.

Last night, the American author explained why she chose to co-write it with Elaine Aoki to an audience of more than 100 people at a talk at the National University of Singapore. "Elaine Aoki and her husband had adopted a baby from China and she asked me if I would like to write her story with her," said Okimoto, 72.



The characters, she explained, "reflected my values of being pro-family because I believe that families are defined by love".

Children from non-traditional families will also feel validated when they see themselves in stories, she said. "Knowing about differences enriches children's view and understanding of the world."

The grandmother of six travelled here with her husband at the invitation of Yale-NUS College's Professor Robin Hemley, the event's organiser.

Prof Hemley said the event was inspired by last year's book controversy, where at least six titles were removed by the NLB. Two were reinstated: The White Swan Express and And Tango Makes Three, which features two male penguins who raise a chick.

The issue of censorship in children's literature is a global one, he said, adding that in 1987, a group of people in Charlotte, North Carolina, attempted to get science fiction novel Flowers For Algernon removed from reading lists of local high schools as they felt it contained pornography.

"I don't want anyone to think that we are criticising Singapore, because we are not," he said.

Other speakers included local writer Suchen Christine Lim, as well as author Susannah Bright and children's literature expert Mark West, both from the United States. The discussion was moderated by local poet Alvin Pang and Yale-NUS student Abdul Hamid.

Lim, 67, said censorship and book selection is an "inevitable, eternal controversy".

Citing classical Chinese text San Zi Jing, or Three Character Classic, as an example, she said the book was banned in China during the Cultural Revolution but is now highly regarded, which shows the banning of a book sometimes has nothing to do with its moral context or literary merit.

"The censoring of books is closely related to the political and cultural context of a specific time and place. Politics, world views and values change over time. What is banned yesterday is unbanned and read today, then banned again tomorrow."

Yale-NUS student Lynn Lee, 21, said it is important to discuss censorship issues. "People who think they are in a better standing make decisions about what we read. It's inevitable, so it's important to have discussions about such issues."



Related
National Library Board apparently banned two children’s books as they are deemed not pro-family
Online petitions started, call for Singapore NLB to reinstate removed children’s books
Ban these books too!
Frequently challenged books of the 21st century
These Children's Books Are Unintentionally Hilarious
Comics with explicit images still in reach of minors

MCI Minister Yaacob Ibrahim saves the penguins from getting pulped
Pulp Friction: Looking beyond the liberal / conservative divide
NLB Saga: Let's not open the doors to 'culture wars'
MCI’s response to Parliamentary Question on NLB’s withdrawal of books from children’s section
MCI’s response to PQ on lessons learnt from recent NLB episode
MCI’s response to PQ on withdrawn titles from public libraries
MCI's response to PQ on social norms

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