Cataloging Sarah Palin's Attempted Book Banning
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Sep 08, 2008 at 01:56:13 PM EST
It has been widely reported, by Time magazine and The New York Times, among others, that Sarah Palin as mayor of Wasilla  was the author, (in the broadest sense of the term) of an effort to ban books from her town's public library.  While that much seems to be true, and undenied by Palin, there is an apparently bogus list of her proposed banned books in circulation.  The facts are, as far as anyone has been able show, that while Palin did apparently want to ban some books, she did not say which ones.  

All this is an unfortunate distraction from the real issues.  In this atmosphere, it can be easy to believe every far out thing one reads about Sarah Palin. Even things that might be untrue and are nothing more than internet rumors. But there is enough well substantiated material of real concern to focus on without letting hysteria and misinformation get the better of us.

Here is what  Time reports:  

"[Former Wasilla mayor] Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving "full support" to the mayor."
McClatchy newspapers has a more thorough, and arguably fairer report on the flap:


WASILLA, Alaska -- Back in 1996, when she first became mayor, Sarah Palin asked the city librarian if she would be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so.

According to news coverage at the time, the librarian said she would definitely not be all right with it. A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired. The censorship issue was not mentioned as a reason for the firing. The letter just said the new mayor felt Emmons didn't fully support her and had to go.

Emmons had been city librarian for seven years and was well liked. After a wave of public support for her, Palin relented and let Emmons keep her job.

It all happened 12 years ago and the controversy long ago disappeared into musty files. Until this week. Under intense national scrutiny, the issue has returned to dog her. It has been mentioned in news stories in Time Magazine and The New York Times and is spreading like a virus through the blogosphere.

But this is also an excellent moment to remind ourselves that Banned Books Week is coming right up. The annual event sponsored by the American Library Association and the Ameriican Booksellers Association for Freedom of Expression enourages the freedom to read, and highlights efforts like  those of former Mayor Palin to censor books from America's public libraries. Such efforts are usually (but not exclusively) led by elements of the Religious Right.

During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2008 celebration of Banned Books Week will be held from September 27 through October 4.

Why do people feel as if they have to embellish the truth???

I'm frustrated at reading this.  What Palin did was bad enough.  There are plenty of things that she DID do that we can report and discuss.

It's right in line with the politics, beliefs, and actions of the churches I walked out of.

We need to work to have accurate reporting of what happened- and hope that what went on will hit the proper venues.  Having people embellish it only would turn the people from those "proper venues" away.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Sep 08, 2008 at 08:08:28 PM EST

I cannot tell you how thankful I am that someone has the intestinal fortitude to discuss this subject as well as the material presented on Sarah Palin's Church. I was entangled for years in the web of these types of people and have finally been set free from their grasp... Please do not stop ---- dc kanz

by dckanz on Mon Sep 08, 2008 at 04:46:20 PM EST
I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we will stay on the case.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Sep 08, 2008 at 06:05:42 PM EST

The McClatchy version says:

A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired.

That version gives Palin plausible deniability in claiming the censorship conversation and the firing were unrelated. But there were two conversations. The first was an informal conversation after Palin was elected, but before she took office. The second conversation was several weeks later at one of the first town council meetings that Palin attended. In both meetings Emmons said the library had a process for dealing with specific complaints, but that she would personally oppose any efforts to ban books simply because someone disapproved of their content. She added that the rest of the library staff felt the same way. The firing came four days after the council meeting, which makes the linkage much more probable.

by John McKay on Mon Sep 08, 2008 at 09:43:11 PM EST

Of course, in the end the librarian was NOT fired, which is also important. And as far as we know, Palin made no further efforts at book banning. Given the popular support for the librarian, and the solidarity of the rest of the library community, Palin probably correctly recognized that it was a losing battle, and focused on other things instead.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Sep 08, 2008 at 10:18:09 PM EST

Another apparently credible source that bears on this subject is the letter from Wasalia resident, Anne Kilkenny, which both has been all over the internet and also been sourced in some mainstream press articles (i.e. not a rumor). Apparently, she was right in the middle of the attempted book banning controversy. Thank you for discrediting the alleged list of books up for banning. It appears to have been picked from the Wikipedia entry for banned books. In the final analysis, credible information counts the most. Great that the language of credible information is spoken here.

by fordgreene on Tue Sep 09, 2008 at 01:21:11 AM EST

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