Latest move by NLB welcomed - and criticised

And Tango Makes Three is one of two titles the library will keep. A third title was pulped earlier.
And Tango Makes Three is one of two titles the library will keep. A third title was pulped earlier.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Some in both camps unhappy with books kept in adult section

Critics of an earlier decision by the National Library Board (NLB) to remove two controversial children's titles have generally welcomed its move to keep the books but shift them to the adult section instead.

Nanyang Technological University student Lim Jialiang, 23, who started an online petition last week with writer Ng Yi-sheng, 33, and PhD student Liyan Chen, 31, against the removal, called the latest NLB decision a "reasonable move of compromise".

"It is a reaffirmation of our secular, shared space," he added.

NLB said yesterday that it would reinstate And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins raising a chick, as well as The White Swan Express, about two female partners adopting a baby, in the adult section. The NLB's withdrawal of the titles for not being "pro-family" had sparked a chorus of criticisms since it was first reported about a week ago.

Ms Germaine Ong, 30, a mother and freelance marketer who set up a Facebook group called Singapore's Parents Against Library Censorship, also called the NLB reversal the right move.

Singapore Management University associate law professor Eugene Tan said in turn that the decision by the Ministry of Communications and Information shows it is responsive to public feedback.

" I would describe the decision as being sensitive and nuanced and one that will help to address the concerns of the various groups in what has been an unnecessarily divisive issue," said Mr Tan, a Nominated MP.

Not all agreed though.

Ms Carrie Yu, who is in her 40s and had signed a petition supporting NLB's removal of the children's books, said: "The Government is sending a wrong signal (showing) that it can be pressured by certain interest groups by caving in to their demands, which are self-serving in nature and unacceptable by many in society."

Like her, senior financial consultant David Ng, 51, who had supported NLB's earlier move, said he was disappointed. "These books shouldn't even be in the National Library in the first place, regardless of what section," he said.

Facebook group Singaporeans United For Family, which had last week penned a letter to back the removal, said it "respects NLB's decision to balance the different interests at stake in order to ensure that books in the children's section are age-appropriate."

But it maintains that "public institutions should teach children the value of family as the basic building block of society". It added that it defines family as a man and a woman marrying and having and bringing up children.

Nominated MP Janice Koh said the NLB's move "is a compromise position that may calm the situation for the time being".

"But it does not necessarily mean that those from either camp, with regards to the cultural battle over the content of the books, are happy."

Indeed, not all critics of the NLB were appeased.

Arts educator T. Sasitharan, 57, for one, called the NLB's latest move "a half-measure".

"This epitomises the idea of Singaporeans as infantilised people. What better symbol of that can there be to have children's books in the adult section?" said Mr Sasitharan, who last week quit as a judge of the Singapore Literature Prize, which is linked to NLB.

Said humanities professor Robin Hemley, who also resigned as a Singapore Literature Prize judge: "Instead of burying the books in the adult section, why not simply place a sticker on them attesting to their controversial nature?"

He said NLB should rectify its mistake of discarding Who's In My Family, the third children's title flagged for its homosexual content, by ordering another copy.

Lawyer and novelist Adrian Tan, 48, who pulled out of an NLB talk on Sunday, said: "There are three lessons for Singapore: Public institutions must be transparent, public property must not be summarily destroyed and public space must be shared by all."

Additional reporting by Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh