11 public complaints about library books with gay content

The National Library Board brings in an average of 86,000 new titles for Singapore's 26 public libraries each year.
The National Library Board brings in an average of 86,000 new titles for Singapore's 26 public libraries each year.ST PHOTO: SONG TAO

The National Library Board (NLB) has moved eight titles in the children and young adults' section to sections for older readers over the past four years, following complaints that they contain homosexual content.

Since 2014, it has received 11 complaints from the public about titles with homosexual content, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran in Parliament yesterday. Eight of these titles have since been moved to sections for older readers, while three were deemed suitable to remain in the original collection for children and young adults, he added. He was responding to Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun, who had asked about the number of complaints made against books containing homosexual, religious or racial content.

On books dealing with racial, religious and other topics, NLB received feedback on 23 such titles. Of these, seven were moved to sections for older readers and eight were retained in the original collection. A series of eight Malay children's titles - Agama, Tamadun Dan Arkeologi (Religion, Civilisation and Archaeology) - was withdrawn in June last year, due to controversial religious content.

Mr Iswaran said: "The NLB seeks to balance the need for a wide-ranging library collection with sensitivity towards our community norms."

Apart from having a team of book selectors, it relies on pre-publication information from publishers and vendors, as well as reviews from library journals and sometimes review copies, to decide on what books are suitable for the library.

A Library Consultative Panel comprising citizens from "a wide cross-section" of society was established in 2015, to provide community perspectives and recommendations on books that are being reviewed due to public concerns over content.

The formation of this panel had followed an uproar over NLB's decision to remove three children's books with homosexual content. This had led it to return two titles - And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express - to its shelves, but in the adult section. The third, Who's In My Family, was destroyed before the issue came to light.


Against this backdrop, a petition was launched to repeal a law criminalising consensual sex between male adults last weekend. It has attracted about 20,000 signatories to date. Another online petition, "Please Keep Penal Code 377A in Singapore", has attracted about 85,000 signatories.

NLB brings in an average of 86,000 new titles for the 26 public libraries each year, and titles are chosen based on a "collection policy which aims to provide age-appropriate and diverse reading material", said Mr Iswaran. The policy "also takes reference from the Infocomm Media Development Authority's Content Guidelines for Imported Publications", he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2018, with the headline '11 public complaints about library books with gay content'. Print Edition | Subscribe