Updated: 08/05/2014 02:31

NLB teams for selection and review will be kept separate

NLB teams for selection and review will be kept separate

The National Library Board or NLB will ensure that their team selecting books for acquisition and their team reviewing books will be different. 

Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim, says this is one of three areas where the NLB will improve its processes. 

The library had received flak for its decision to withdraw two books from the children's section of its libraries. 

Dr Yaacob told Parliament that it's good practice to segregate these responsibilities. 

It'd lead to greater public confidence in the review process. 

He also gave details of a new advisory panel to be set up by the NLB, which will help staff take into account broader concerns of the community when they review the suitability of books for their collection. 

The panel will represent a cross-section of society, and include members from the literary community. 

He said more details of the panel will be worked out in the next few weeks. 

The NLB will also establish a clear process to deal with books that have to be withdrawn. 

Those which have to be withdrawn due to controversial content could be placed in a more appropriate section of the library instead of being pulped. 

This led to Nominated MP Faizah Jamal to ask if it would marginalise those who do not fit into the traditional family model. 

Replying, Dr Yaacob says it isn't the NLB's intention to exclude any group in society. 

"But we cannot pretend that we can have every possible book in the universe in the library. It doesn't happen anywhere in the world. Some books, which incite racial hatred, we will never allow it into our library. So let us not pretend that there is no censorship, there is, because we need to make sure that we protect our society, and also observe our community norms."

But society is changing, and he said the NLB would need to take its cue from different sources like meet-the-customer sessions, the Education Ministry, and civil society groups, as well as the new advisory panel,
to make its final decision as to whether a book should be withdrawn or not. 

Nominated MP Janice Koh raised another concern.

"What assurance do we have that in the future, NLB shall not flinch from its basic purpose as a custodian not of morality, but of learning, knowledge and access to a wide range of information? What assurance do we have that NLB will not take the easy way out and only bring in books that will never offend?"

This was echoed by Nominated MP Eugene Tan, who expressed hope that the NLB will not flinch from making hard choices. 

But Dr Yaacob reassured them that they would not just bring in "safe" titles. 

"Between those extreme right and left books that we will never bring in, there is a vast set of collection that we will have to decide, and because the library has differentiated collections, it allows us that flexibility and we will continue to do so. It is in our interest to provide a wide reading list as possible to Singaporeans."

Dr Yaacob reiterated that the NLB has learnt from the episode, and this would not be the last time public institutions like NLB would face such controversy.

-By Lianne Chia

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