Friday 17 April 2015

NLB sets up independent panel to review flagged material

By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2015

STUNG by a controversy over its removal of children's titles with homosexual content, the National Library Board (NLB) has set up an independent consultative panel to advise it in reviewing flagged materials.

The 19-member panel was set up on April 1, and is helmed by former Nominated MP Mildred Tan, managing director of Ernst & Young Advisory.

Other members include writers Claire Tham, 48, and Adeline Foo, 44, academics, a cabby and a grassroots leader, among others. They will serve a two-year term ending March 2017 and may seek public views through focus groups and interviews.

The panel will meet only when required, the library board said. Any decision regarding a title will be made by the board itself.

The controversy over the children's titles flared up about nine months ago, when it was revealed that the library had pulled them following complaints from some members of the public.

Two petitions were started - one for and one against NLB's decision. Some writers and academics protested by dropping out of NLB-related events. Two of the three removed titles were eventually reinstated in the adult section of libraries.

When asked how the panel would ensure minority views are heard, Ms Tan said: "The members... come from diverse backgrounds and each member will have an opportunity to share and bring their views to the table."

In a Facebook post, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the panel comprised "individuals from various professions, races and religions, including representatives from the literary community".

Panel members said the NLB first contacted them in February.

Among them was Ms Tan Ling Ling, 42, a parent who goes to the library with her four children, aged six to 11, at least once a month.

"This is a meaningful task. As a mother, I understand the considerations a parent might have when choosing books for children," said the school clerk.

Mr Su Zhangkai, 32, a former teacher who runs a Chinese language enrichment centre, said the panel has its work cut out as "everyone has different acceptance levels for different issues".

"But at the end of the day, we have to stand on the side of the readers, who should be able to get mental nourishment from the library," he said.

Student Lim Jialiang, 24, who started a petition last year to protest against the decision to pull the titles, said the inclusiveness of the panel had yet to be proven. "I hope that the panel will take into account the views of sexual minorities when reviewing books."

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