The NLB Saga and Censorship

Over the past week, the Singapore National Library Board (NLB) opened itself to public discourse over its decision to pulp three homosexuality-themed books.

  1. And Tango Makes Three – features a pair of male penguins who raise a chick together (based on a true story, fyi)
  2. The White Swan Express – features lesbian adoptive parents
  3. Who’s In My Family – features same-sex parents

These books were originally placed under the Children’s Section, as intended. After receiving a complaint over its propriety, the board reviewed these titles and decided to pulp them. Pulp as in ‘destroy’. Pulp as in ‘turn into marsh’.


Dear NLB,

I know that as a country, we are still divided over the LGBT issue. According to a (very outdated) national census in 2007, homophobes are the ruling majority. So I guess it is only fair that we treat the LGBT community as less-than because Singapore is a pro-family, conservative, and intolerant nation. We will not have it any other way.

But let’s not delve into such divisive matters. It might be too much for you to handle. I mean, after all, you are not the fucking government. You are the National Library Board. By your own accord, you proclaim to “promote reading, learning and information literacy by providing a trusted, accessible and globally-connected library and information service through the National Library and a comprehensive network of Public Libraries.”

I always thought that the library was a repository of knowledge and information. Perhaps I am wrong. Apparently libraries get to be subjective and, might I say, discriminatory. I guess it is well within your prerogative to project your personal beliefs unto others. It is also completely within your right to decide what I should or should not read. This definitely doesn’t amount to censorship.

Obviously, being sheltered and ignorant is an integral part of the Singaporean childhood. We do not want to expose our children to such depravities. I mean if we close their eyes and ears to such reprehensible notions, they will stay pure and innocent forever. Remember, if they can’t see or hear about it, it completely does not exist. I guess the Ostriches have taught us well, with sinking their heads in the sand. So much for the promotion of ‘information literacy’. It’s best if they learn about such stuff in an uncontrolled environment. Or best yet, when they learn to use the internet. I’m sure being rudely awakened by reality is a rite of passage for our young Singaporeans.

I must also commend the way you had intended to use public funds. You used tax-payers money to purchase these titles in the first-place – and then review them after the fact. Personally, I review my books before purchasing them. I’m not sure if you are aware, but most books do come with a blurb to give you a rough idea of what you can expect from the story. Perhaps you can do this in the future. Back to the topic, you decided to pulp these books after your review. Clearly, destroying these books makes much more sense than to place them elsewhere with restricted access. I get that you feel these books are so morally corrupt that they deserve to be pulverised. Love the way you make your grand statements, especially when it isn’t on your dime.

With disdain,
K R Jefferson


While I was seething with anger when following this story, I was also pleased by the actions of many Singaporeans who showed them what a lovely bunch of people we are (at least some of us). Two petitions were drawn up, calling for the reinstatement of the books. Over 400 people attended an organised event where they showed up at the library to read the said titles to their kids.

The issue here isn’t about homosexuality. There isn’t a gay agenda here. This is about censorship. This is about the value of literature. No piece of written work should be destroyed just because you do not agree with what was written. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Don’t allow your kids to read it, if you must. But cutting off access to anyone else, that’s just ludicrous and selfish. Just because you believe in ignorance, it doesn’t mean everyone else should.

Thankfully, the saga was put to rest yesterday when the Minister for Communication and Information outrightly instructed the NLB to move them to the ‘Adult Section’ instead of pulping them. However, he only managed to save 2 of the 3 books, as ‘Who’s in My Family’ was already discarded prior to the statement. Boo you, NLB!


And, in a totally-unrelated news, the Singapore Media Development Authority announced that Singapore is banning the Archie Comics issue that features the ‘Gay Wedding’ of one their characters.

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!




2 thoughts on “The NLB Saga and Censorship

  1. I’m not sure if “liking” this is exactly what I want to do. However, you made me genuinely interested in the issue of library censorship in Singapore — this is to say a lot because I can’t imagine a topic more remote to me. Well done!


    • Thank you. I was vehemently typing away when writing about this topic. I am usually not affected by other people’s personal beliefs. I myself believe that everyone has a right to whatever they believe in. But I can never stay quiet in the face of superimposition, especially censorship (which I find to be draconian). We are cognitive beings for a reason. I’m sorry – I just went off again.


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