By Howard Lee
Jillian, 11, would be the typical girl that the National Library Board thinks – of fears, as the case may be – would go the library on her own and pick up books that depict “alternative lifestyles” and “non-pro-family” values.
That was NLB’s justification for removing a number of titles recently, following public feedback.
Jillian could describe to a tee what one of the removed books, “And Tango Makes Three” was about. However, reading the book did not change her ideas about “family values”.
While acknowledging that same-sex parents were not usual, compared to her family of a father mother and two other siblings aged 7 and 4 – and dad cooks breakfast on weekends – she had this to say when I asked her what she felt was the most important lesson she learnt from the book: “A family does not need to be about a mother and father.”
Similarly, another father I spoke to shared that, when he asked his son: “What is a family?”, the 6-year-old’s simple reply was: “Love”.
In fact, those were the views echoed by many of the parents I spoke to yesterday at the Let’s Read Together event organised by a few individuals passionate about reading. The event saw a turnout of a few hundred, consisting parents and their children.
Stella, Jillian’s mother, felt that reading should be about giving children a chance to learn about different things. “I want them to know that everyone is special… that there is a lot you can learn from books.”

Indeed, concerns that children would have biased views about others based on their family composition seemed to have worried a number of parents that TOC interviewed at the event, including a single parent family, and those with mixed-race parents and adopted children.
Not having books as a medium for parents to introduce these concepts to their children and explain to them about discrimination appeared to have urged these parents to attend the event.
Put in perspective, this is a very real concern for society. The very stand NLB has taken on this issue implied that the statutory board has effectively sanctioned the marginalisation of certain family units, rather than encourage a broader acceptance of diversity.
On the other hand, concerns that such books would encourage children to adopt an “alternative lifestyle” did not rank high among the parents at the event. “It is crazy to think that just because my children read about gays, they would become gays,” exclaimed one mother of five.
In fact, early childhood educator Rachel Zeng expressed concern that NLB has not done its homework before deciding on removing books from its shelves. “IF NLB wants to know the impact that books have on children, they need to talk to the children themselves.”
“I’m sad about NLB’s decision to pulp the books,” said Stella. “It’s a rash move and I think they should think about it a bit more before deciding.”
Concerns remain over NLB’s process of censuring books, which to date has not been made transparent to the public. All we had was the claim from NLB’s chief executive, Elaine Ng, “It’s unfortunate that it appears to be a knee-jerk reaction but we have an ongoing process of review.”

On the contrary, it was the parents who think that NLB’s withdrawal of the book was “knee-jerk” – one parent at the reading event used that exact same phrase on NLB – pandering to the interests of a few without giving adequate thought to a broader consensus. Exactly what was NLB’s review process? Who do they consult? Do they clarify with the writers? Do they do audience testing? Is it an independent body that reviews complaints made against books?
Parents and educators were not the only ones who did not buy Ms Ng’s claim. Writers Gwee Li Sui, Felix Cheong and other have boycotted an NLB writers’ festival event to express their unhappiness over the removal of the titles. The lack of transparency was a key concern to them, and it is not surprising given what they do for a living. Gwee, in particular, expressed concern that authors might not even know that their works have been removed, such was the opacity in NLB’s decision making process.
Evidently, NLB’s latest decision has gotten a lot of people agitated, but three missteps seem to be standing out like badly bruised sore thumbs – the lack of transparency over its book review process; the destruction of perfectly good books which for a library is akin to committing murder; and its decision to serve as an arbiter of “community norms”, a point that has been summarily rejected by the parents TOC spoke to. Even the “clarification” statement by the Minister for Communication and Information has done little to help, and has instead been widely criticised.
Sadly, NLB seems to see no urgent need to address such unhappiness properly. This episode will possibly go down as the worst phase in the public institution’s image. For society at large, its actions have further entrenched, not diffused, the cultural rifts that have recently surfaced in Singapore society. That should have been the last thing that a National Library should even be remotely associated with.
[youtube id=”6CKJkOE6ARA” align=”center”]

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like

PM Lee and Halimah each writes letter praising China for its efforts in combating coronavirus

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Halimah Yacob each sent a…

S’pore’s trust in government continues to fall: Edelman

In terms of viewing government officials as credible spokespeople, Singapore now ranks…

尚达曼获颁杰出领导与服务奖 陈清木祝贺

新加坡国务资政兼社会政策统筹部长尚达曼,获得国际金融协会颁发杰出领导与服务奖,表扬他在国际金融治理与公共服务方面的贡献。 国际金融协会成立于1983年,仍是当前唯一和具影响力的全球性金融业协会,总部位于华盛顿,来自70多个国家和地区、450多家主要商业银行、金融投资机构、资产管理公司、养老基金、评级机构和保险公司等,都是该协会成员。 尚达曼透过总理公署发文告表示,奖项也应属于他在新加坡和国际上的合作伙伴,一同努力加强国际金融市场抵御风险的能力,确保市场以增长为导向。 同时,他也归功于新加坡金管局和政府同仁的共同努力。 今年中旬,国际货币基金组织(IMF)遴选新届总裁,而尚达曼也是人选之一,被看好可能成为首个来自亚洲的IMF领导。不过,最终保加利亚经济学家格奥尔基耶娃被任命为总裁。 另一方面,新加坡前进党秘书长陈清木医生,也在今日发文祝贺尚达曼。 帖文中陈清木称,在早年的国会事务自己就亲眼见证尚达曼的工作能力,并赞扬后者“有见地、真诚和善良”。对于尚达曼的能力获得国际社会的认可感到欣慰。 “确实,他仍可为国际社会带来更多贡献,对于他为国争光,我们为他感到骄傲。”

Foreign PMET jailed for exposing his private parts to woman commuter in GrabShare ride

It was reported in the media on Fri (4 Jan) that a…