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MPs call for a more transparent book review process

MP Baey Yam Keng also suggests having a steering committee to advise the library on acquiring books for its collection.

SINGAPORE: Members of Parliament (MPs) have called on the National Library Board (NLB) to put in place a more transparent and robust review process for its books, following controversy over its withdrawal of three children’s book titles that it said “did not promote family values”.

A more transparent review process would not only stand up better to scrutiny, but allow it to “defend (its) position”, said Tampines MP 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 All About Our Families, was withdrawn in May.

Mr Baey suggested having a steering committee to advise the library on acquiring materials for its collection. This could be made up of people from a large cross-section of society, such as experts from libraries in other countries, parents and book enthusiasts.

Nominated MP Janice Koh agreed that a broad panel of assessors should review requests to withdraw books and the decisions should be made transparent to the public.

Ms Koh said the NLB’s “hasty” decision-making was “perplexing”. She added: “I am concerned that NLB has chosen to listen to complaints from a small group of people ... while ignoring others, including many parents, who want the right to choose.”

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, who chairs the GPC for Communications and Information, said that NLB is in a tricky position. While a line must be drawn on the extent to which book content should be screened, “we should also be aware that for literary material, there is some level of ambiguity and subjectivity ... It is not that easy to draw that line”, he said.

At least two petitions – garnering more than 5,000 signatures as of last night – have been set up to call for the withdrawn titles to be reinstated.

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