Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information (MCI), has instructed the National Library Board (NLB) to place two children’s books slated for pulping in the adult section of the library.
He made these statements in a Facebook post, adding that he asked "NLB to review the process by which they deal with such books".
He concluded that "the decision on what books children can or cannot read remains with their parents" and "parents who wish to borrow these books to read with their children will have the option to do so".
The two books, And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express, were slated for pulping after a public complaint was filed to the NLB. A third book, Who’s In My Family, had been disposed of as it was ‘reviewed earlier’.
Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair also posted a FB note on July 16, saying that he disagreed with NLB's decision to pulp the three children's books:
In his FB note, he called for a "solution" where the books would be "placed in a separate section, which children can only access with an adult present".
A week ago, Minister Yaacob first commented about NLB’s stand on the withdrawal of three children’s books, and explained that NLB’s approach is to reflect existing social norms, and not to challenge or seek to change them.
Initial responses by writers
Writers that Mothership.sg spoke to welcomed the idea, but urged for more transparency in NLB's review process in the removal and pulping of books.
“I’m glad because we’re not going to enshrine the idea that destroying books is part of our national ethos,” said poet Ng Yi-Sheng. “(It) sends a signal that there are people in power who care about us writers, readers, and LGBTs enough to take some kind of action against our censorship.”
“But I’m not satisfied -- because there’s no commitment against destroying more books,” Ng added.
Melissa Tsang, a content producer for a local start-up, said that the planned removal of the books -- which were seen as content that did not reflect "pro-family" values -- was less of an issue of censorship and more of an issue of "erasure" of the LGBT community.
"Unless people see it as an attempt to marginalise LGBT people in public discourse, to make sure we're 'adult only', a discomforting existence -- they will be happy to settle for this 'compromise'," she said. "To me, I see pulping and restricting as one and the same symbolic action... People who are still talking about 'compromise', to me, have missed the point."
Gwee Li Sui, a literary critic, poet, graphic novelist, said, "It's a sensible compromise in a way... The issue most of us had was with the swiftness of the move to destruction and the absolute closed nature of the review process resulting in it."
Gwee, who along with two other humour writers boycotted an NLB event last weekend, said, "As a writer, I appreciate any care put into presenting books so that they can reach the right audience. Pulping books should always be the last resort and not the first step to take to negotiate with the harshest critics. As such, I (would) like to see the library show more resilience in future in this respect."
"The decision did not stand up to scrutiny, and we had no access to its basis," he added. "'Following guidelines is a terrible answer: Rules are made for man and not man for the rules. If guidelines themselves need to be reviewed, let it happen."
Photo by Ng Yi Shu