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Yaacob tells NLB to put barred titles back on shelves

The Straits Times | Pearl Lee | Saturday, Jul 19, 2014

Two of the three titles taken off the shelves by the National Library Board after receiving queries over whether they were suitable for children.

SINGAPORE - Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has instructed the National Library Board (NLB) to reinstate two controversial children's titles to its shelves but place them in the adult section.

Thus, they will not be pulped, contrary to earlier plans. The library is also to undertake a review of its process of handling books that receive negative feedback from the public, he told The Straits Times yesterday.

The moves come a week after a storm of protest broke out over the discovery that the two books dealing with alternative families and homosexual themes had been withdrawn after a member of the public complained, and that they were to be destroyed. It later emerged that a third book, Who's In My Family, was withdrawn for the same reason.

It had been disposed of as it was reviewed earlier in the year, Dr Yaacob said. The other two, And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express, will now return, but in the adult section.

"The decision on what books children can or cannot read remains with their parents. Parents who wish to borrow these books to read with their children will have the option to do so," said Dr Yaacob. He stood by the decision to remove the books from the children's section. "As I said earlier, NLB has to decide what books should be made readily available to children, who are usually unsupervised, in the children's section of our public libraries," he said in an e-mail reply that was later posted on his Facebook page.

On his prompting the NLB to review its process of dealing with books that attract negative feedback, Dr Yaacob said: "NLB will continue to ensure that books in the children's section are age-appropriate. We have a much wider range of books in the adult section of public libraries."

He noted that many had objected to the idea that the books would be pulped after being withdrawn from circulation. "I understand these reactions, which reflect a deep-seated respect in our culture for the written word."

At a press conference later, NLB chief executive Elaine Ng acknowledged "that the processes we have in place for reviewing feedback about our books must improve".

When the NLB confirmed last week that it had removed the books and would pulp them, writers such as Dr Gwee Li Sui and playwright and novelist Ovidia Yu reacted by pulling out of events related to the NLB.

Yesterday, some who protested against the removal were glad with what they saw as a compromise. Others said they were waiting for greater transparency in the review process. A few, like humanities professor Robin Hemley, were unmoved. He said the books were being "ghettoised" in the adult section just because they offend some parents.

Single parent Jaxe Pan, 29, applauded the books' return. The architect, whose Facebook protest post attracted 7,000 "shares", said: "I am going to tell my daughter proudly that no matter how small you are, in size or numbers, you always have a voice in your country. It is a fair compromise."

leepearl@sph.com.sg


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