Disbelief. Disappointment. Rage. These emotions have not been in short supply on my Facebook news feed recently. And although a lot of it was World Cup-related (sorry, Brazil fans) most of it was actually about the National Library Board’s (NLB) removal of certain children’s books.
I’m sure the NLB had hoped that the removal of the books would happen quietly, unannounced and mostly unnoticed. It’s not the first time they’ve done it, after all. It has emerged that three books written by Robie Harris, making sex education accessible to young children, have also been withdrawn.
But now the news is everywhere, and it’s a revelation that hurts. I see it in the reactions of my friends and I feel it myself; indignation and anger mixed with deep, deep disappointment.
The national library was ours – a publicly funded institution open to all members of the public, a house of knowledge, culture and learning for all Singaporeans. As a child I visited the library often. I still remember learning how to use the self-checkout machines, carting my books home and devouring them while lying on a mattress spread out on the floor of my grandmother’s house. Those books were the foundation of a lifelong love for reading that endures till today. The library belonged to me, and my family, and my friends. It felt like it would always be a space for us to turn to, a neutral space that would be open to all Singaporeans, regardless of who we are.
Discovering the NLB’s willingness to cave to conservative religious anti-LGBT pressure has shattered that illusion. We now realise that our public library is complicit in denying space to people who don’t conform, and in using the “pro-family” excuses used by homophobes and bigots committed to the marginalisation of sexual minorities.
We now realise that our public library is not actually ours, and probably hasn’t been for a long, long time.