NLB may involve external voices in review process

SINGAPORE - The National Library Board (NLB) will improve its internal process of reviewing controversial children's books and possibly involve a panel of external voices, said its chief executive Elaine Ng yesterday.

She could give no more details, including when the new process would be used, but acknowledged that this is in response to the nearly two-week outcry after the board removed children's picturebooks from public shelves following a reader complaint.

At a media conference yesterday, Ms Ng said the books were removed over concerns that the content was unsuitable for the children's section.

Most of about 27 million visitors at public libraries each year are children, she said. "NLB has to decide on age-appropriate books that the majority of parents would be comfortable with when their young children browse unsupervised in the children's section," she added.

Two of the titles, And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, have not been discarded and will be put on the adult shelves for parents to decide if their children should read them.

The library is still considering where to place them and will have more details in a week.

Asked whether a third removed title, Who's In My Family?, would be re-acquired, she said the public could suggest new buys on the NLB's homepage.

Pulping books withdrawn from circulation has been the procedure until now. "It is something we could have thought deeper about," she said. From now until new review processes are in play, complaints about books and content would not be addressed.

Asked if the NLB had come under pressure from religious groups to remove the books, she said: "When people come to us with feedback, it's not possible for us to discern their motivations. These are things we handle at a service level and we take all feedback seriously.

We recognise that the processes we have in place for reviewing feedback about our books must improve. This will not be the last time that NLB will find itself facing requests to review our books."

The NLB has a collection of five million books and acquires up to one million a year. Its 200 librarians also review 4,000 to 5,000 titles a year.

When a complaint comes in about a book, at least one librarian reads it "cover to cover", notes reviews and recommendations in trade publications, then puts it up to other librarians for "collective deliberation". Ms Ng said the NLB would look at "other organisations that have tapped external panels and develop a process that will work best for us".

This article was first published on July 19, 2014.
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