MPs call for a more transparent book review process

MPs call for a more transparent book review process
And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express were removed from the National Library’s shelves. Photo: Wee Teck Hian
Published: 4:03 AM, July 11, 2014
Updated: 7:03 PM, July 11, 2014
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SINGAPORE — Despite the strong public reaction to its recent moves to withdraw three children’s book titles — after receiving complaints that they did not promote family values — the National Library Board (NLB) has reiterated that the titles will not be reinstated and they will be pulped, in accordance with library policy.

However, some observers, including Members of Parliament (MPs), have called on the statutory board to put in place a more transparent and robust review process that would better stand up to scrutiny, and allow it to “defend (its) position”, in the words of MP for Tampines Baey Yam Keng, who is deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information. “This is public money that is used to be make book purchases and it is public feedback that is received — both good and bad,” he said.

On Tuesday, following a complaint by a member of Facebook group We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore, the NLB yanked And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express off its shelves. The Straits Times reported that a third title, Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families, was withdrawn in May.

The NLB said it had carried two copies of And Tango Makes Three and one copy of The White Swan Express. It was unable to provide information on the number of copies of Who’s In My Family? All About Our Families it had carried. It said the three titles — the only ones to be withdrawn from its children’s collection so far this year — were carried in the regional libraries at Tampines, Woodlands and Jurong, but declined to give more details.

The NLB said in reply to media queries that librarians from across its 24 branches and senior management of public libraries — led by the chief librarian — regularly discuss the titles in its collection. “As our librarians interact with thousands of visitors, they have a (sense) of the needs and concerns of the community that they serve at each library.”

Apart from complying with regulations from the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Media Development Authority of Singapore, the NLB also draws reference from its Collection Development Policy during such discussions, when public complaints are also looked into.

Under the policy, the NLB “excludes materials that are critical of any racial or religious groups, that contain derogatory stereotypes, promote intolerance, violence and any other insensitive material that is excessive”.

The NLB said: “The two copies of And Tango Makes Three, for instance, came in a few months ago. Not long after they came, they surfaced during our regular reviews by the librarians ... the parent’s feedback on these books was in line with our own concerns.”

Its collection policy “takes special care of our children’s collections to ensure they are age-appropriate”, the NLB said. “We take a cautious approach ... NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”

It noted that its adult collection contains titles with homosexual themes and its collection policy does not exclude materials on alternative lifestyles.

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