The following is a Facebook post by the Minister of Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, on the controversy surrounding the National Library’s removal of two children’s books from its shelves.
I refer to NLB’s statement, “NLB Takes a Cautious Approach in Selecting Books for Children”.
The withdrawal of the three children’s titles from our public libraries has sparked much discussion online and in the media. Those who object to NLB’s decision and those who support it are equally vocal and energetic in their views.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last time that public institutions like NLB find themselves facing such a controversy. I wish to explain the Government’s approach, in the hope that this will help all sides understand what the withdrawal is about – and what it is not about.
Firstly, the withdrawal was not based on a single complaint, without an attempt to assess the merits of the complaint. NLB has a process where its officers carefully consider such feedback, before making a decision.
Secondly, this is a decision only with respect to the children’s section in the public libraries. 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, 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. For the adult sections of the library, the guidelines for what is suitable are much wider, and a much wider range of titles are on the shelves.
Thirdly, NLB’s decision was guided by community norms. Public libraries serve the community and it is right that they give consideration to community norms. 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. This approach is shared between all public agencies dealing with the education and care of young Singaporeans.
Like in other societies, there is considerable effort by some in Singapore to shift these norms, and equally strong pushback by those who don’t wish to see change. Societies are never static, and will change over time. But NLB’s approach is to reflect existing social norms, and not to challenge or seek to change them.