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NLB to create 'more transparent review processes'

SINGAPORE: National Library Board CEO Elaine Ng says it has found a "means and method" to put controversial children's books in the adult section of the library.

SINGAPORE: The National Library Board (NLB) will move the children's titles that have been the subject of recent controversy to the adult's section, and plans to create "more transparent review processes" for its books, CEO Elaine Ng said on Friday (July 18). The announcement follows instructions from Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim to reinstate the books in a separate section.

On public outcry that the NLB had said the books - "And Tango Makes Three" and "The White Swan Express" - will be pulped, Mrs Ng said the library had no intention at all of denigrating books. "Pulping is a technical term used in the book industry to describe the recycling of printed materials. We do not want to be viewed as destroying books that are in good condition, as it was never our intention to denigrate books," said Ms Ng. 

"Many objected to the idea that books will be pulped. As book lovers ourselves, we understand the reaction. We do not want to be viewed as destroying books."

ON THE INITIAL DECISION TO PULL THE BOOKS

Ms Ng added the library's decision to remove the books from the children's section is about making sure that the books in this section are age-appropriate.

"Young children are our biggest visitors, and they tend to browse unsupervised. Hence the NLB takes the stance of having age-appropriate guidelines," said Ms Ng.

"We have made certain decisions on what books should not be in the children's section and that still stands. Going forward, we have found a means and method to put controversial children's books in the adult section of the library.

"Parents are the one who decide what books children can or cannot read. This could be achieved in the adult section or a PG section, as mooted by some members of the public.

"Is NLB subject to pressure by religious groups? The NLB is not in a position to discern people's motivation. We treated the requests at a service level.

"We really take special care of the children's section. Other libraries also adopt age-appropriate guidelines."

ON THE REVIEW PROCESS

"This is and will not be the last time the NLB will be asked to review books. We will be more transparent. We will look at other organisations, create more transparent review processes. We're still looking around, and will need time to look at what works best for us. We ask for the public's patience.

"Some ways to do so: We will seek more voices, include external parties on the feedback of some of our books.

"We already have regular random reviews of books already on our shelves. This happens regularly across the year, not on an ad-hoc basis. It's not always possible to know which books are being reviewed before procurement.

"We want to build bridges with stakeholders, and take time to reach out to those who have partnered NLB in the past and have different views. We want to spend a lot of effort engaging them, and find ways to work with them in the future.

"It's beneficial for external voices to help in the process.

"As an interim measure, we will leave requests to review books alone until a review process is finalised."

ON THE SELECTION AND ACQUISITION OF BOOKS

"We read the synopsis for all books procured.

"Half of the books in the NLB are children's books. We will try to the best of our abilities, since that's a large number of books to review."

On the computerised system of recommendation and acquisition of books mentioned in the Auditor-General's Report on Thursday: "That is not related to controversial titles. NLB staff review books, then put the titles they want into the procurement system. For controversial titles, the staff read all synopses before procurement, but not the whole book." 

ON THE WITHDRAWN ARCHIE COMIC

"We bought it before the MDA guideline came into place. But that rule only applies to booksellers. The comic is in the adult section. It's currently out on loan."

ON THE MISSION OF THE LIBRARY

"We need to bear our mission in mind, as we think through the processes. The library's goal is to promote reading, to be a space for community, where the majority will feel comfortable. For children's section, for the majority of parents to be comfortable for their kids to browse unsupervised."

"Please remember the good work that the NLB has done in the past. I hope we showed that we are a learning organisation."

*NOTE* The second last paragraph of this article has been amended at 5:40pm on July 17 to reflect a clarification from the NLB.

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