Pulping penguins: the NLB and a space that used to be ours

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has emerged that three books written by Robie Harris, making sex education accessible to young children, have also been withdrawn.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.

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“They don’t realise what they do.”

ERT Orchestra

The performance was short. Extracts from Mozart’s Requiem, voices interwoven with the melodies and harmonies from strings, brass and woodwinds. When it was over there was a short silence before the applause, and members of the chorus raised their arms with the ‘V’ sign. The applause went on and on, and one by one audience members stood up to give the ERT orchestra a standing ovation.

Considering that one of their last official concerts drew a crowd of 1,200, Tuesday night’s reception was a modest one. But the applause went on and on, a rhythmic clap as the orchestra stood for their bows and the conductor hugged the concert master.

After all, who knows how long more this orchestra can go on?

ERT's headquarters in Athens

ERT’s headquarters in Athens

On 11 June 2013, the Greek government made a surprise announcement: the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, more usually known as ERT, would be shut down. The decision was effective midnight. Over 2,700 employees working at ERT’s television, radio and magazine departments found themselves without a job.

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