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MP Hri Kumar disagrees with NLB decision to withdraw children's titles

A better solution would have been to put the books in a separate section, which children can only access with an adult present, the MP says.

SINGAPORE: Mr Hri Kumar, Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, has weighed in on the debate over the National Library Board’s (NLB) decision to withdraw three children’s titles from its collection because they did not adhere to traditional notions of family, and community norms.

In a Facebook post titled "Pulp Friction" on Wednesday evening (July 16), he said he has no argument with NLB vetting books for public consumption, but says he does not believe homosexuality "falls in the category of issues which should be excluded". He says NLB's response could have been to place the books in a separate section, where children can access them under adult supervision.

"Excluding such books, or worse, destroying them, sends an altogether different and confusing message about the role of the NLB," he wrote.

He added that the NLB "has some work to do to repair its image, and make clear its mission", and says it is a good opportunity for the library board to explain its processes and consult the public on how it can serve them better.

His Facebook post is reproduced below:

"I disagree with NLB’s decision to pulp the three children’s books.   

Here is why.  

I do not agree with the argument that destroying books is akin to censorship, and that all censorship is bad. There are some publications which clearly do not belong in our public libraries. There can be little argument that NLB should remove books which, say, encourage criminal acts or propagate racist doctrines. NLB’s officers must therefore be given some discretion to vet and exclude books. 

The real question is whether homosexuality falls in that category which should be excluded.  

This is where the conservative and pro-LGBT groups will never agree, and no amount of argument will make either side change its mind. As I have said previously, society will evolve on this issue and it is those who are not entrenched in either camp who will determine its direction.     

I do not believe homosexuality falls in the category of issues which should be excluded. In fact, neither does the NLB. It says it carries such books in the Adult section.  

But I think most neutrals would agree that children should read books with controversial themes supervised. I love to read to my 6 year old daughter. She will ask the most interesting questions, and have her own insights. It is a learning process for both of us. Like me, most parents consider reading to children a joy and a privilege. We take an active interest in explaining to and guiding our children on what they read, especially if the books raise difficult issues. And if parents prefer to keep such books away from their children or to tell their children that such books are “wrong”, so be it. That is their prerogative. Parents should be given an option. 

The solution could therefore be to have the books placed in a separate section, which children can only access with an adult present – much like a “PG” movie. Excluding such books, or worse, destroying them, sends an altogether different and confusing message about the role of the NLB.  

The NLB obviously has some work to do to repair its image, and make clear its mission. I hope it will not run away from this.   This is a good opportunity for the NLB to explain its processes and consult the public on how it can serve it better. This is not going to be an easy exercise, and NLB cannot hope to please everyone. But it can demonstrate that it is open to all views and will do its best to find common ground. I think Singaporeans will appreciate that."      

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