Being Singaporean,  Bitching

Dear NLB – Singling Out Penguins & Swans

Ms Tay Ai Cheng
Assistant Chief Executive & Chief Librarian
Public Library Services Group
National Library Board

Dear Ms Tay,

My son, my wife and I are long-time patrons of your excellent establishment. My son, especially, particularly loves your vast collection of books, and he would like to also extend his heartiest commendations to the Board’s recent My Tree House children’s section revamp of your Central Library.


We’ve always reveled at how we might find rather progressive reads among your children’s titles, and have borrowed many a book to read as bedtime stories to our son. But my family was surprised, disturbed and quite dismayed to learn about a recent apparent decision of yours to pull two titles, And Tango Makes Three and White Swan Express, based on what looks like a single visitor’s feedback and the grounds that they did not fall in line with the strong pro-family stand your establishment takes in selecting books for children.

Coincidentally, just one day before I read about your decision, I was discussing a story that surfaced in social media of two male penguins having successfully raised an adopted chick. During the discussion, I said that although the human concept of homosexuality may be completely lost on penguins, “(a)nthropomorphisms are what we do to try and understand the world in our terms. The same concept creates as much havoc in our own social construct as it helps build our understanding of the world we live in, and each other.”


That said, I dare say your recent action has taken a rather irrational direction, which is ironic seeing as your establishment has long been revered as a bastion of knowledge for not only this country’s citizens, but around the region. One wonders, if the Board would so readily pull two so-deemed questionable titles based on just one complaint, why the Board has not yet pulled Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting (that beautiful story written in a Scottish accent that made heroin addiction cool), Adam Mansbach’s Go the F**k to Sleep (the Samuel L. Jackson audio version, no less), or the most recent of book titles being arbitrarily challenged, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (that one set of parents in the US challenged based on their citation of the “227 instances of coarse language and sexuality”, never mind that the book dealt with abuse, discrimination and bullying in a very strong and honest way).

Given the heated discourse being openly conducted in our country, in part to define family values, I feel obliged to speak up as a husband, a father of two and an ardent supporter of all things valued by family. Family values are unique to each and every family; what might work for one family might not fit into the beliefs of another. I know of enough people around me and around the world afflicted by disability, sickness, death, divorce, financial burden, miscarriage, infertility, or even racial, religious, political and sexual discrimination to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to family creation and management. And if I may say as way of compliment to the Board, I learned how to empathise with all of these people and all these situations through the various children’s books my family regularly bring home to read as bedtime stories to our children, just over the last 4 years alone.

I'd tell you what books moved me and my family, but you'd have to put them back in the shelves first.
I’d tell you what books moved me and my family, but you’d have to put them back in the shelves first.

I believe the Board seeks to cater to as broad a base of readers as you are able to reach, which means you do actively consider carrying a diverse range of material that may each address one psychographic of your audience over another, in a bid to capture as many subsets of the population-at-large as you can. That being said, I feel the need to remind you that our family values are ultimately for our own family to dictate and no one else, much less one who would impose his or her own ideals and beliefs on an entire nation by denying it of knowledge that might ultimately lead to a better understanding of the world we live in, knowledge contained in every book, periodical and media recording that you carry – including but not limited to the two book titles you’re now pulling off your shelves.

Besides, given the immense smorgasbord of topics and categories that you cover, the Board cannot be expected to endorse every view contained in every book, periodical and media recording that you carry, can you? So why would you dig your good selves a precarious hole of such a ridiculous cause by starting with two children’s books that deal indiscriminately with the one family value that should be most emphasised yet is also the most overlooked in our society today – love?

Our future lies in the hands of our children, and you play an essential part in their upbringing. My family and I (not to mention a number of my other friends and likeminded library users – here, here, here and here – from whom you’ve no doubt also heard from already since this unfortunate turn of events) do sincerely expect you will do right by the people you serve.

With hope,

Winston Tay

Update 18/7/2014: Looks like the voicing out worked.

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The Blogfather’s follow-up post on the issue here.


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