Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Palin Wanted to Ban Books from the Town Library

I had seen earlier stories claiming the story was exaggerated, but this ABC news report makes it clear that she really did fire the librarian after asking her if she would remove books. Her only defense is that her question was hypothetical, as in "What if I told you you're fired as town librarian unless you ban the books I don't like?" I mean, what century is this woman from?


Anonymous said...

From Newsweek:

One accusation claims then-Mayor Palin threatened to fire Wasilla's librarian for refusing to ban books from the town library. Some versions of the rumor come complete with a list of the books that Palin allegedly attempted to ban. Actually, Palin never asked that books be banned; no books were actually banned; and many of the books on the list that Palin supposedly wanted to censor weren't even in print at the time, proving that the list is a fabrication. The librarian was fired, but was told only that Palin felt she didn't support her. She was re-hired the next day. The librarian never claimed that Palin threatened outright to fire her for refusing to ban books.

It's true that Palin did raise the issue with Mary Ellen Emmons, Wasilla's librarian, on at least two occasions, three in some versions. Emmons flatly stated her opposition each time. But, as the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman (Wasilla's local paper) reported at the time, Palin asked general questions about what Emmons would say if Palin requested that a book be banned. According to Emmons, Palin "was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can't be in the library." Emmons reported that Palin pressed the issue, asking whether Emmons' position would change if residents were picketing the library. Wasilla resident Anne Kilkenny, who was at the meeting, corroborates Emmons' story, telling the Chicago Tribune that "Sarah said to Mary Ellen, 'What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?' "

Palin characterized the exchange differently, initially volunteering the episode as an example of discussions with city employees about following her administration's agenda. Palin described her questions to Emmons as "rhetorical," noting that her questions "were asked in the context of
professionalism regarding the library policy that is in place in our city." Actually, true rhetorical questions have implied answers (e.g., "Who do you think you are?"), so Palin probably meant to describe her questions as hypothetical or theoretical. We can't read minds, so it is impossible for us to know whether or not Palin may actually have wanted to ban books from the library or whether she simply wanted to know how her new employees would respond to an instruction from their boss. It is worth noting that, in an update, the Frontiersman points out that no book was ever banned from the library's shelves.

Palin initially requested Emmons' resignation, along with those of Wasilla's other department heads, in October 1996. Palin described the requests as a loyalty test and allowed all of them (except one, whose department she was eliminating) to retain their positions. But in January 1997, Palin fired Emmons, along with the police chief. According to the Chicago Tribune, Palin did not list censorship as a reason for Emmons' firing, but said she didn't feel she had Emmons' support. The decision caused "a stir" in the small town, according to a newspaper account at the time. According to a widely circulated e-mail from Kilkenny, "city residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin's attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter."

As we've noted, Palin did not attempt to ban any library books. We don't know if Emmons' resistance to Palin's questions about possible censorship had anything to do with Emmons' firing. And we have no idea if the protests had any impact on Palin at all. There simply isn't any evidence that we can find either way. Palin did re-hire Emmons the following day, saying that she now felt she had the librarian's backing. Emmons continued to serve as librarian until August 1999, when the Chicago Tribune reports that she resigned.

So what about that list of books targeted for banning, which according to one widely e-mailed version was taken "from the official minutes of the Wasilla Library Board"? If it was, the library board should take up fortune telling. The list includes the first four Harry Potter books, none of which had been published at the time of the Palin-Emmons conversations. The first wasn't published until 1998. In fact, the list is a simple cut-and-paste job, snatched (complete with typos and the occasional incorrect title) from the Florida Institute of Technology library Web page, which presents the list as "Books banned at one time or another in the
United States."

Anonymous said...

What does "The librarian was fired, but was told only that Palin felt she didn't support her" mean?

How can a librarian support the major?
Maybe be helping her to do the things she want being banning books?
She was smart enough to not make a threat, but that doesn't mean that not wanting to do ban books has nothing today with firing him, it could very well be the reason she thinks that he doesn't support her.