By Howard Lee
A group of activists have sent a petition letter, with more than 3,000 signatures, to the National Library Board (NLB) to request that the statutory board reinstates two books that have been taken off the library’s shelves recently – “And Tango Makes Three” and “The White Swan Express” – following complains from members of the public that they contain content that is deemed not “pro-family”.
Within a day of launching the open letter, the group received 3,830 signatories who are against the removal of the books. The letter was circulated widely online through social media and forum pages, which the group says demonstrated “a true groundswell of public dissatisfaction that cannot and should not be ignored”.
“The conduct of this removal is also very unsatisfactory and begs explanation,” the organisers wrote. “The stealth and lack of transparency in the removal of these books do not give due accountability and is therefore not in the general interests of the public.”
“Secondly, we request that the NLB clarify their latest press statement, in which they stated that the titles (were) removed because they take a “cautious approach” and that they are at an “impressionable age.” This response has been vague and gives little explanation. What are the criteria which deem that books will render children so impressed and influenced that it needs to be removed?”
The group also questioned if NLB has adopted its more “pro-family” stand only in recent months, and if so, if the statutory board has consulted the general public on the steps it should take to remove books from its shelves.
In addition, the group expressed their concern with the removal of three other books – “It’s not the Stork!”, “It’s So Amazing” and “It’s Perfectly Normal”, all written by Robie H. Harris – and requested for them to also be reinstated.
“These three books all focus on teaching children about their sexual health. In particular, “It’s Perfectly Normal” has garnered many awards, including a Notable Book Award from the American Library Association itself. It is therefore perplexing why such material, which can help parents in navigating the often awkward and complex issue of sex education, has been removed from our libraries.”
The group also felt that NLB, “as a public institution, should represent a diversity of views, and not remove books just because it offends the sensibility of others.”
The letter writers called on NLB to be neutral, instead of serving the interests of a minority of its readers.
“The debate here is not about whether books dealing with homosexuality or books that are not deemed “pro-family” by some should be allowed. It is that the NLB in and of itself should serve the interest of all citizens, and to not accede to a narrow demand by several individuals clamouring to be the gatekeepers of society’s morality.”
NLB has earlier indicated that “And Tango Makes Three” and “The White Swan Express” were removed in response to complaints from the public, but did not indicate how many of such complaints were made.
A letter from its chief librarian citing the reason for the removal was shared on the Facebook page “We are Against PinkDot in Singapore” and subsequently went viral.
Pink Dot is an annual event organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore to increase public awareness of their “freedom to love”.