NLB saga: Two removed children's books will go into adult section at library

SINGAPORE - Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has instructed the National Library Board to place two controversial children's books in its adult section, instead of pulping them.

'And Tango Makes Three' and 'The White Swan' will return to the shelves, but not in the children's section.

"The decision on what books children can or cannot read remains with their parents. Parents who wish to borrow these books to read with their children will have the option to do so," he said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

The minister stood by the library's decision to remove the books from the children's section.

"As I said earlier, NLB has to decide what books should be made readily available to children, who are usually unsupervised, in the children's section of our public libraries," he said.

Three removed books were the subject of intense debate over the past week: 'And Tango Makes Three', 'The White Swan Express', and 'Who's In My Family?'. Their withdrawal from the library came to light last week when a Facebook user, Mr Teo Kai Loon, posted a note in an open Facebook group saying NLB had taken out the first two books following his complaint. The Straits Times found out that 'Who's In My Family' was also removed earlier.

'And Tango Makes Three' is based on the true story of a pair of male penguins who raise a chick together; 'The White Swan Express' features adoptive parents such as a lesbian couple; and 'Who's In My Family' highlights different family structures and includes same-sex parents.

The minister said the latter had already been disposed of as the title had been reviewed earlier.

"But I have instructed NLB not to pulp the two other titles, but instead to place them in the adult section of the public libraries."

He added that he has also asked the NLB to review its process for dealing with such books. "NLB will continue to ensure that books in the children's section are age-appropriate. We have a much wider range of books in the adult section of public libraries."

He noted that many had objected to the idea that the books would be pulped after being withdrawn from circulation.

"I understand these reactions, which reflect a deep-seated respect in our culture for the written word."

News of the removal last week drew sharp criticism from some quarters; upset that a public institution devoted to promoting learning and knowledge would censor and pulp books in such a seemingly arbitrary fashion. It led to two petitions calling for NLB to reinstate the books, and a reading event where the banned books were shared among parents and their children.

Writers also pulled out of events related to the NLB, such as the Singapore Literature Prize.

But those who supported the move also spoke up in large numbers, with an open letter in support of the NLB by a Facebook group, Singaporeans United For Family. Organisers said they received 26,000 signatures.

Many, including Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair, had suggested a compromise solution: to have a section in the library for these books where parental supervision is required.

NLB says it reviews 4,000 to 5,000 children's titles each year. It has a collection of five million books, and acquires one million a year. It gets about 20 e-mails a year from the public asking for certain titles to be withdrawn, but fewer than a third are removed.

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