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>There’s a thousand library trustees just like her.

I wouldn’t elect Sarah Palin to anything, but this old censorship charge is really reaching. As far as we know, as mayor of Wasilla she asked the public library director three times about the possibility of removing “objectionable” books from the collection. Three times the director said no. (Positively biblical!) Then Palin tried to fire the director but changed her mind. Unless that former director (who is not talking) tells us otherwise, we have no reason to believe that Palin’s request went beyond the hypothetical.

This is actually pretty typical of people who get power–and three-year-olds, come to think of it. They want to see how far they can push it. Mayors, school superintendents and library trustees alike are often surprised to discover that they don’t get to personally decide on library purchases or discards. It’s the librarian’s job to explain to them why this is a bad idea and arguably illegal.

I’m reminded of the time when Chicago aldermen removed–at gunpoint–a satiric portrait of the late Harold Washington from an exhibition at the School of the Art Institute. THAT was censorship. But just asking? Nope.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >And it doesn’t help that this charge sometimes comes with a list of titles that Palin supposedly tried to ban — actually a list that has nothing to do with her, of every book that anyone has ever tried to “ban” in the U.S., including some published after she was mayor. It just muddies the water and distracts from the many real reasons (according to me) not to vote for her.

  2. >Good to have a false charge refuted! But I agree with the previous anonymous – the woman is a talented performer but WHO WRITES HER SPEECHES? She’s just a pretty mouthpiece for the usual line.

  3. >ThankYouThankYouThankYouThankYou!

    Who among us hasn’t been asked a question that shows the asker really doesn’t know how a library works? Maybe Palin had nefarious intent, maybe not, but this is SO blown out of propportion.

  4. >If this was a serious effort at censorship, there would be mention made of it in the minutes of the Library Board. Those records are open and could be searched.

    If the librarian is unavailble, who was the Chair of the Library Board at the time?

  5. >Yes, but…she had to ask three times to understand that concept? Asking once how these things work definitely sounds reasonable. Twice more after that seems, well, stupid. At the very lease, obtuse with skewed priorities. At the worst, mildly threatening.

    I agree it’s not censorship. I agree it shouldn’t be The Deciding Issue. But I disagree that it’s irrelevant (if anyone is saying such a thing…can’t quite tell).

    And, and, and I also agree that muddying the waters with a fake list of titles is lame.

    – h

  6. >thank you for this common sense post!

  7. >Asking, that’s not censorship.

    But attempting to fire the librarian who says no? That seems pretty clear-cut to me. Can you explain your thought process a bit more?

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >Palin tried to fire a number of city department heads because they, the librarian among them, had supported her opponent in the mayoral campaign. She was in her legal rights to do so, but apparently the librarian was well-liked and public pressure forced Palin to reconsider.

  9. >It seems to me that the articles describing the situation imply that the censorship kerfuffle led directly to the firing kerfuffle. Do you think they’re being misleading or I’m reading too much into them, or are there competing interpretations of the situation?

    Of course hiring people she likes and firing experienced people who don’t support her is its own special bad idea.

    I thought this was a pretty interesting analysis of her strengths and her weaknesses as a leader; both Snopes and the NYT have confirmed that Kilkenny is who she says she is, though that doesn’t mean she’s right.

  10. >I have to disagree Roger. Her intent was to remove the books that SHE found objectionable. Just because she failed in that attempt, or that it was a weak attempt, does not change her original intent. I appreciate your balanced post, however. It may be that I just don’t know enough about the definition of censorship, but even that would seem to be an issue of semantics when the fact is she tried three times and then tried to remove the librarian.

  11. Roger Sutton says:

    >As far as we know, she never named a single book she wanted removed. She wanted to know if it was possible. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that had the librarian acquiesced, the Wasilla shelves would be half empty. But wanting to remove books? Half the adult population and all the politicians feel just the same way.

  12. >Everyone seems to assume that these ideas and opinions originate with Palin herself. Isn’t it possible that she is the mouthpiece for (scripted by) the McCain campaign? She reads the teleprompter well and clearly enjoys her role – but isn’t she just a puppet?

  13. >Aren’t we all wasting our time railing at Palin? Surely she is just a talented mouthpiece for the McCain script writers? Look behind the curtain!!!

  14. >Don’t you recognize an urban legend when you see one? Surely you librarians did your research?

  15. >It was one of Bush’s speechwriters that wrote her speech. I saw this noted in a couple of newspapers, though they didn’t give a name.

  16. >Google the Frontiersman, the local Wasilla paper, to see their reprint of the original article describing what happened.

  17. Roger Sutton says:

    >I’m not sure what “urban legend” it is that is allegedly being promulgated here. And the events we’re discussing took place twelve years ago and were not mentioned in her speech (whoever wrote it).

  18. sarajkramer says:

    >I read this post with interest, and tried to have an open mind about the whole thing—as you suggest. But your comments really nagged at me, and in the end, I felt I had to disagree.

    I don’t accept that every politician would like to have books removed from the shelves of the library—and so she’s no worse than the average person. That may be the case, but we should not be handing power over to people with these beliefs. We need to be vigilant.

    Anonymous at 8:12 pm made the case against accepting this well.

  19. >Roger, I appreciate your attempt at being balanced…but it really doesn’t matter if she actually named a book she wanted banned/censored, or if her attempt to ban/censor(and bullying…which is how I see her threat to fire the librarian) was successful. The bottom line is that she would have banned/censored books had the librarian not resisted. And here’s a great question – why is Palin concerned with a city librarian’s support of her mayorship? Doesn’t she have more to be concerned with as a major like city streets, crime, etc…? For me, any time a public official makes noise to impose HER moral/religious/ethical beliefs on the public in the form of censoring or banning what the public is to read, it sets up HUGE red flags. Obviously, I think this is a big issue. I don’t care to see my rights further degraded by public/government officials which is one big reason I will not vote for the McCain/Palin ticket – no way, no how!

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