On Censorship and the withdrawal of access to books which are not “pro-family”: National Library Board needs to clarify their position on how they handle their collections!

On Censorship and the withdrawal of access to books which are not “pro-family”: National Library Board needs to clarify their position on how they handle their collections!

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This morning a post from a “pro-family” (anti-lgbt) group “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” by Facebook user “Teo Kai Loon” made the internet rounds. It contained the following letter from Ms Tay Ai Cheng, Assistant Chief Executive & Chief Librarian of the National Library Board in Singapore: (Original screenshot image here)

Thank you for your email. I would like to assure you that NLB takes a strong pro-family stand in selecting books for children. We take a cautious approach in identifying titles for our young visitors. Besides going through the contents, we also refer to synopses, reviews and other books written by the authors.

We have withdrawn the books Tango Makes Three and the White Swan Express following your feedback. We have a collection of more than five million books. While we try to sieve through the contents and exercise our best judgement, it is an arduous task to ensure complete adherence of details in the books to our pro-family stand. However, when library visitors like yourself highlight to us any conflicting content within books, we review such books thoroughly and withdraw them from circulation.

Warm Regards,
Ms Tay Ai Cheng
Assistant Chief Executive & Chief Librarian
Public Library Services Group
National Library Board

I was extremely disappointed to see this letter and the use of a “pro-family stand” to justify the censorship of books – a withdrawal which was only demanded for only by a few individuals with an agenda of intolerance! This is a slippery slope we are headed down and how can a nation’s library policy of including or not including books be dictated by a few individuals with narrow views on what can be represented and what cannot? I wrote a response to the issue but my facebook post quickly vanished as the original post I had shared was taken down – the result is that now I am even more angry. I’ve rewritten it now and made a screenshot of it above just in case….

The books which were withdrawn were:

And Tango Makes Three is a children’s book based on the true story of two male penguins who were observed to have formed a couple whilst they were in New York’s Central Park Zoo. They were later given an egg to raise which another couple could not, and they hatched a baby penguin named Tango.

White Swan Express is a children’s book about adoption, and how families can come in all forms of shapes, sizes and arrangements. It traces the journeys of four very different North American families who travel to China to adopt a child, but even though everyone is very different, they are all not so different because all the families are bound together by love.

I hate how the term “pro-family” is often used in Singapore. They aren’t really “pro-family” if they do not agree that every human has the right to have a family irregardless of sexuality and gender. They are only “pro-heteronormative-family”, and “pro-fixed-gender-stereotypes”. In fact, “pro-family” has now become a thinly veiled way of saying that one’s views are anti-LGBT without coming right out to say that you are actually homophobic / intolerant of LGBT people!

When public representative public bodies such as NLB say that they are “pro-family” what does this mean? Does it mean that the National Library of Singapore can officially refuse to allow the public access to certain books if they happen to include stories from the viewpoints of LGBT people? Really, Singapore? In this day and age? Isn’t this tantamount to thought-policing? A National Library shouldn’t be “pro-anything” – and if anything at all, its prerogative should be to be “pro-freedom-of-information!”

It is important that we demand a public clarification from NLB on their policy on how the books and materials in our national libraries (whether in public access or reference sections) will be handled – now and in the future.

See also:
NLB: Recommend titles to be added to the public collection: https://eservice.nlb.gov.sg/recommendatitle/recommendatitle.aspx
NLB public feedback form: http://www.nlb.gov.sg/Feedback.aspx
My Post on FB
Straits Times: NLB removes two children’s titles after complaint that they are not “pro-family”
Mothership.sg: National Library Board apparently banned two children’s books as they are deemed not pro-family
Independent.sg: NLB removes two children’s books after complaint by anti-LGBT group
Yahoo News COMMENT: Kirsten Han – NLB should not define ‘family’ and censor books

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