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NLB's decision to withdraw books based on "community norms": Yaacob

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim listed three reasons explaining NLB's decision to pull the three children's books for not being "pro-family".

SINGAPORE: Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim on Friday (July 11) wrote a Facebook post explaining the Government's approach with regard to the National Library Board's (NLB) decision to withdraw three books for not being "pro-family". He said NLB's decision was based on "community norms".

He clarified that the withdrawal of the books was not based on a single complaint, without an attempt to asses its merit. "NLB has a process where its officers carefully consider such feedback, before making a decision," he wrote.

Dr Yaacob also stated that "NLB is not deciding what books children can or cannot read. That decision remains with the parents, as it always has been."

Below is his full post on Facebook:

I refer to NLB’s statement, "NLB Takes a Cautious Approach in Selecting Books for Children".

The withdrawal of the three children’s titles from our public libraries has sparked much discussion online and in the media. Those who object to NLB’s decision and those who support it are equally vocal and energetic in their views.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last time that public institutions like NLB find themselves facing such a controversy. I wish to explain the Government’s approach, in the hope that this will help all sides understand what the withdrawal is about – and what it is not about.

Firstly, the withdrawal was not based on a single complaint, without an attempt to assess the merits of the complaint. NLB has a process where its officers carefully consider such feedback, before making a decision.

Secondly, this is a decision only with respect to the children’s section in the public libraries. NLB is not deciding what books children can or cannot read. That decision remains with the parents, as it always has been. People can buy these titles for their children if they wish. Rather, NLB has to decide what books should be made readily available to children, who are sometimes unsupervised, in the children’s section of our public libraries. For the adult sections of the library, the guidelines for what is suitable are much wider, and a much wider range of titles are on the shelves.

Thirdly, NLB’s decision was guided by community norms. Public libraries serve the community and it is right that they give consideration to community norms. The prevailing norms, which the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans accept, support teaching children about conventional families, but not about alternative, non-traditional families, which is what the books in question are about. This approach is shared between all public agencies dealing with the education and care of young Singaporeans.

Like in other societies, there is considerable effort by some in Singapore to shift these norms, and equally strong pushback by those who don’t wish to see change. Societies are never static, and will change over time. But NLB’s approach is to reflect existing social norms, and not to challenge or seek to change them.

Separately, MP Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng posted on Instagram that the National Library needs a robust system to account for how it uses public money to build its book collection. He says this would help NLB defend its position, both in title selection and any action in response to public feedback. It could also tap on a steering committee to advise the library on acquiring materials for its collection.

"They would be able to benefit from an external panel or committee to give strategic direction on how libraries should be beefed up in terms of their collections, he said to Channel NewsAsia.

"I'm sure there must be best practices overseas, and also inputs from public, whether from literary enthusiasts, from parents, from different sectors of society to give their inputs. Because ultimately, NLB serves the public, so I think public feedback, concerns or interests should be part of the overall process."

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