National Library Board (NLB) of Singapore has recently caused a stir in the country with a dichotomy of viewpoints concerning the banning of three children books.
1) And Tango Makes Three
It is based on the true story of 2 male Chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, in New York’s Central Park Zoo. Being observed with behaviours resembling a couple – including bowing to each other, building a nest and hatching a rock that reminds of an egg, the zookeepers gave the couple an egg to hatch. After taking turns to incubate the egg, it was hatched with the zookeepers giving it the name Tango.
2) The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption
It tells the story of four baby girls from a Chinese orphanage and the families who adopt them. The North American families, including a single mother and another consisting of two female partners, made their trip to city of Guangzhou where they become acquainted at the White Swan Hotel. After meeting their children, they must negotiate the bureaucracy of foreign adoptions before going home.
3) Who’s In My Family?: All About Our Families
This vibrant picture book look into all kinds of families and diversity – from different places, doing different things and the different combinations of families – be it adopted children, same-sex couples and divorced parents. It reinstates a stand of social diversity.
Is Singapore ready for change?
2014 seems to be the year where the gay rights assertion is on its high. The biggest of its kind in Singapore; the LGBTQ rally in June 2014 had garnered a huge 26,000 crowd, with multi-international media covering the event. Also in the same period, other pages of distaste towards the community has emerged – notably the “We are against pink dot in Singapore” with some 3646 members. Health Promotion Board’s addition of the sexuality FAQ segment caused a stir in March 2014 as well. How is Singapore moving forward as a society, putting behind the barriers concerning sexualities?
Public Libraries – a cemented haven of expected values or liberal field of information?
The controversy is supported by the “pro-family” philosophy as put forth by Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development. While so, the withdrawal of the two books has led to a deeper concern – what is deemed as right for a library? Should a library hold only literature that is socially and morally aligned with the state’s interest? People can complain and contest against certain content of literature as inappropriate. Such a movement will not be supportive of literature as a subject of fluidity and liberty.
Mr Yaacob Ibrahim stated in his Facebook that the NLB’s approach is to “reflect existing social norms, and not to challenge or seek to change them.” The “pro-family” philosophy is a blurred notion. This stance, similar to religion, holds different meaning to different people. My question is – why shove a philosophy to others? Living in a democratic state of diversity, we must first understand the uneven definition of the term “pro-family”. Withdrawing books merely by the thematic concern is a flaccid attempt at achieving that.
Could it be a blessing in disguise then? With the controversy, the act of reading banned books heightens. It is a psychological effect that comes with NLB’s decision – these highlighted titles will certainly reach out to more than it would be in the libraries in the first place. Internet has opened up so many ways of obtaining them.
Though it is not the first time (and seemingly won’t be the last) that books get removed due to its divergence from the values expected of literature in Singapore, it is a disappointing stance that was taken to restrict the purpose of libraries – the pursuit of knowledge. I feel that society should address these issues without the imposing of religious grounds, than to avoid through an extravagant mean of pulping the titles in all.
Writer: Leong Chee Sheng