This is an open letter drafted by Ng Yi-sheng, Lim Jialiang, and Liyan Chen in response to the removal of 2 books by NLB.
Please add your name at the bottom if you agree with the letter. This collection period will last until Thursday evening, and will be sent Friday morning to NLB, and also MCI, the ministry in charge of our libraries.
To: National Library Board, Singapore
Attn: Ms Yeoh Chee Yan (Chairman)
Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth
Mrs Elaine Ng
Chief Executive Officer
Ms. Tay Ai Cheng
Assistant Chief Executive & Chief Librarian
“We, the undersigned, are dismayed by the letter written by Ms Tay Ai Cheng, Assistant Chief Executive & Chief Librarian, Public Library Services Group of the National Libraries Board (NLB) to Mr Teo Kai Loon. This letter appears to be written in response to a complaint by Mr Teo to have the titles “And Tango Makes Three” and “White Swan Express” removed from the children’s section. Ms Tay has also mentioned that the National Library takes on a “pro-family stand”.
The first book, “And Tango makes Three” is based on a real-life account of same-sex partnered penguins in captivity who nurtured a baby penguin at the New York Zoo. It has won multiple children’s book awards, including the Nick Jr. Family Magazine Best Book of the Year. The second, “White Swan Express”, contains the adoption of a child by a lesbian couple. It is therefore inferred that these depictions were what ran counter to the “pro-family stand” of NLB.
It is puzzling for us as to why these books, one of them critically-acclaimed, were removed without any process for disputation. We hold high hopes that the NLB will one day be recognised as a world-class library, comparable to institutions like the British Library and the US Library of Congress. This, however, cannot be achieved by withdrawing titles from the shelves hastily simply because it offends the sensibilities of some people.
Leaving aside the point as to how same-sex partnered penguins are somehow analogous to homosexual couples, sociological studies have shown and studied the rise in alternative families. The books above help to broach a highly sensitive subject to children, allowing them to understand that there are different versions of what it means to be a “family”. Removing books that reflect reality in all its diversity is contradictory to how the NLB sees itself as providing knowledge to society.
Furthermore, parents who object to the content of these books have the option of not borrowing them for their children. To withdraw it from circulation is irresponsible and unfair to other library users and parents who may want to teach their children about acceptance, tolerance, and the heterogeneity of family structures.
In sum, the library should not privilege transient policy and public opinion, but serve to display the diversity of opinions of a time, without prejudice. It is therefore crucial that the NLB conduct itself in a neutral fashion, to act as an observer and a recorder of the times.
We call on the NLB to reinstate said titles, and to exercise prudence in response to complaints in the future, instead of stripping the enjoyment of reading from the many to pander to the complaints of the few.”