Library Consultative Panel to help review library materials following “Penguingate”

Let's Read Together NLB 3 - HLBy Howard Lee

The National Library Board (NLB) has announced on 15 April that it has set up an independent Library Consultative Panel to advise on the review of library materials.

The appointment of the panel comes into effect from 1 April.

The formation of the panel was a commitment made by NLB following “Penguingate” in July 2014, when members of the public protested the removal of two books from the library’s collection deemed to be not “pro-family”, with the intention of destroying them.

The two children’s books in question are “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, and “The White Swan Express” by Jean Davies Okimoto. It was also apparent that NLB’s decision then was made in response to complaints from anti-LGBT groups.

The panel comprises 19 members from a “broad cross-section of society”, with each member of the panel serving a two-year term.

The panel will provide NLB with its recommendations on library materials to reflect community views in reviewing NLB’s collections. The panel may also decide to “seek views from the public through focus groups and interviews”, said NLB in its media statement.

The panel is chaired by Mrs Mildred Tan, managing director of Ernst and Young Advisory.

“Our libraries are public learning spaces for the community,” said Mrs Tan. “They serve people of all ages, social and cultural backgrounds, as well as diverse needs and interests. By providing perspectives from our experiences, I hope that this panel will enable NLB to come to balanced decisions in the review of library materials.”

Let's Read Together NLB 1 Andrew LohHuman rights activist Jean Chong, however, held some reservations about the composition of the members of the panel, particularly on how the panel members were selected.

“Transparency on the selection process of the panel has been lacking,” said Ms Chong. “I hope that the panel remembers that Singaporeans have a right to decide on what they can or cannot read.”

Notably, only three authors can be identified on a panel that is meant to evaluate books. However, writer Gwee Li Sui believed that the panel’s diversity should also be noted.

“It looks like a good spread of people from various age groups and backgrounds,” Mr Gwee said. “I hope that this panel will be able to do its job by framing different subjective viewpoints within an understanding that a public library needs to take an objective position on issues of knowledge and creative freedom.”

The panel also includes representatives from the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.

NLB’s earlier position on the banning of the two books based on “non-pro-family” content was that its “understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”

The National Library Board’s Library Consultative Panel consist of:

  • Mrs Mildred Tan – managing director of Ernst and Young Advisory
  • Ms Adeline Foo – author
  • Ms Asnida Daud – education technology officer at the Ministry of Education
  • Mr Chan Cheow Pong – associate news editor of Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao
  • Ms Claire Tham – author and partner at Hin Tat Augustine & Partners
  • Mr Danny Yeo – founder of Pure Talents
  • Ms Genevieve Low – undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University
  • Associate Professor Hadijah Rahmat – deputy head of the Asian Languages and Culture Academic Group at the National Institute of Education
  • Mr Imran Chng – senior manager of CPG Facilities Management
  • Ms Karen Sik – principal clinical psychologist at the Ministry of Social and Family Development
  • Dr Kumaran Rasappan – orthopaedic surgery resident at Tan Tock Seng Hospital
  • Mr Lim Chin Chuan – Transcab taxi driver
  • Ms Michelle Khoo – postgraduate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
  • Mrs Penny Goh – partner and head of corporate real estate at Allen & Gledhill
  • Mr Raja Mohamad Maiden – managing director of Five Pillars
  • Dr Shanmugam K. – head of programme (Tamil) at SIM University
  • Mr Su Zhangkai – Founder of Sprout Language Centre
  • Mr Tan Boon Khai – head of global procurement at CapitaLand
  • Ms Tan Ling Ling – clerk at Mayflower Primary School