NLB defends move to remove books

One of the titles was already under review by librarians

Three children's titles removed by the National Library Board (NLB) for having homosexual content will not be reinstated despite appeals.

Elaborating on its decision yesterday, NLB said that it continually reviews the books that it carries in its libraries.

"Books are regularly discussed by librarians from across the 24 branches and the senior management of Public Libraries, headed by the Chief Librarian," it said in an e-mailed statement.

"As our librarians interact with thousands of visitors, they have a sensing of the needs and concerns of the community that they serve at each library."

Giving the example of one of the titles - And Tango Makes Three, about a pair of same-sex penguins - NLB said the title came in "only a few months ago" and had already surfaced during regular reviews by its librarians when a parent wrote in to complain.

"Hence, the parent's feedback on these books was in line with our own concerns, and NLB removed the books," it said.

NLB did not elaborate on the other two removed titles - The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, and Who's In My Family?: All About Our Families. Speaking at a press briefing yesterday to address the gathering controversy over the books, NLB assistant director Jasna Dhansukhlal said the board considers book reviews and trade catalogues, among other things, when choosing books.

NLB takes "special care" in choosing content for children, she said, but added: "If you are acquiring one million books for your collection, that's a big number."

News of the removed titles had sparked an uproar online, with one petition to reinstate them collecting more than 3,000 signatures in two days.

Two mothers are also organising a "read-in" this Sunday afternoon at the NLB atrium along North Bridge Road, where the books will be made available for children to read.

Some of these critics have argued that library users should be free to decide what they want their children to read.

Addressing this yesterday, Ms Jasna took reporters to the children's section of Toa Payoh Public Library to emphasise that children often "move around freely to select content on their own".

In its statement, NLB also highlighted that its adult collection "does contain titles with homosexual themes and our collection policy does not exclude materials on alternative lifestyles".

NLB kept the title Kill Me If You Can by novelist James Patterson despite users objecting to its incest theme and asking for it to be removed.

NLB said it gets about 20 e-mails a year from the public to ask for certain titles to be withdrawn, but fewer than a third of the titles in question end up being removed. In removing the books, NLB had said that they were not "pro-family".

Quizzed on how NLB defines family, Ms Jasna would say only it is "consistent with that of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development". She added that the books will be pulped - the standard process for removed titles.

leepearl@sph.com.sg

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