A 'challenge' for NLB to balance various interests

More than 200 children at the Hong Kah North Reading Carnival read stories from the Mustard Seed series by award-winning local writer Emily Lim (with her back to the camera), setting a Singapore record.

It will be "challenging" for the National Library Board (NLB) to review its handling of controversial children's books given the "many different views", said Dr Amy Khor, chairman of the Government's feedback unit Reach, yesterday.

She told reporters on the sidelines of the Hong Kah North Reading Carnival: "It will be challenging... You need to come up with fair and reasonable guidelines that will strike a balance among the different interests."

Her comments came a day after the NLB had promised to review its internal processes following a public outcry over its decision to dispose of three children's titles on complaints that these were not "pro-family".

The NLB also said last Friday that it would not discard two of the titles, And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express, but move them from the children's to the adult section instead.

Yesterday, Dr Khor said the episode showed that some issues are "divisive", and it was important that "these divisions do not deepen". She said: "We really need to come together to discuss this rationally, objectively, and to find a common way forward.

"Even if we cannot find common ground, we must disagree agreeably, with mutual respect for people on each side of the argument." She added that the decision to put two of the titles back on the shelves, but in the libraries' adult section, was a good move. Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim had told NLB to do this. As for the third title, Who's In My Family, this had been disposed of as it was reviewed earlier in the year.

Dr Khor said the library board's latest move benefits various parties.

Parents who wish to borrow the contentious titles now have the option to do so and those who object to the pulping of the books have had their concerns addressed. NLB can also ensure that books in the children's section are age-appropriate, she said. At yesterday's reading event, held annually since 2006, more than 200 children set a Singapore record for the "most number of children reading with an adult".

They read stories from the Mustard Seed series by award-winning local author Emily Lim.

Speaking to participants later, Dr Khor, MP for Hong Kah North, praised the work that NLB has done over the years. "NLB has done a good job, opening many libraries in shopping malls, making it easy for you to borrow and return books... We also need to give them a big round of applause."

Pre-school teacher Shemalatha, who goes by just one name, was at the carnival with her four-year-old son yesterday.

The 30-year-old said children should be introduced to "all types of books", with parental supervision.

She added: "I think NLB has been doing a good job so far. The libraries offer lots of books." 

This article was first published on July 20, 2014.
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