When introducing the National Library Board Bill in 1995, then Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo said the aim of the National Library Board (NLB) was to "promote reading and learning among Singaporeans, for it is knowledge which will determine the wealth of nations in the next century".
Though a library must be a repository of knowledge, as Dr Yik Keng Yeong pointed out in his letter ("Repositories of unbiased knowledge"; last Saturday), it cannot be an undifferentiated warehouse of books. At the very least, it must categorise and classify materials according to genre, subject matter, or whether they are children's or adult books.
The process of classification and differentiation is a value-laden exercise that requires libraries to balance competing interests, none of which can be regarded as fully "neutral". Notably, even those who oppose the NLB's move to remove the controversial children's books have appealed to value-laden principles such as respect for alternative family structures.
Therefore, Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Carol Soon's attempt to draw a dichotomy between promoting learning and policing values is mistaken ("Libraries should promote learning, not police values"; last Friday).
Education and learning cannot merely be aimed at the accumulation of information. In a recent speech, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat emphasised the need to equip children with a "compass", so that "each child has a sense of direction, a sense of right and wrong". Holistic education should aim to teach children the importance of self-mastery and to temper their desires with right reason, rather than the uncritical rejection of moral ideals or social norms.
As a public institution of learning that serves the community, the NLB plays an important role in shaping the character and values of our next generation. These values include respect for racial and religious harmony, as well as the importance of the family as - to quote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - "the natural and fundamental group unit of society".
This article was first published on July 17, 2014.
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