Banned Book Week is Coming…Even in Wasilla

As Banned Books Week near (September 27-October 4), Nancy Kranich, past president of the American Library Association, reminds us of the many attempts to restrict our right to read, including an example from Wasilla, Alaska:

This year’s banned book focal point actually goes back to 1996 in Wasilla, Alaska, when the director of the local public library, Mary Ellen Emmons, received at least three requests from a newly elected mayor asking whether Emmons would object to censoring books. When the mayor raised the issue at a City Council meeting, town resident Anne Kilkenny told the Anchorage Daily News that Emmons responded, “The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.” Emmons, who was President of the Alaska Library Association at the time, was well supported in her response by a particularly strong library reconsideration policy that states: “This library holds censorship to be a purely individual matter and declares that–while anyone is free to reject for himself books and other materials of which he does not approve–he cannot exercise this right of censorship to restrict the freedom of others.”

Fortunately, no titles were removed from the public library, but shortly after the incident, the mayor sent a termination letter to Ms. Emmons and other city officials, charging them with failure to support the new mayor. In the public uproar that followed, citizens rallied around their popular librarian, resulting in her reinstatement. All this would now be forgotten, except that the mayor, Sarah Palin, is now candidate for vice president of the United States.

Read the rest of Kranich’s essay here.

2 comments

  1. Regarding the Kranich essay, see:

    http://www.thenation.com/bletters/20080929/kranich

    where I said:

    “The culprits, whether public officials, private interests or ‘decency’ groups, employ a variety of techniques to control free expression. Our best defense against these censors is the vigilance and activism of people concerned with protecting free expression.”

    The last time a book was censored in the USA was many decades ago. What with the Internet, banning is now nearly impossible anyway. Of Banned Book Week, Thomas Sowell observed that “the kind of shameless propaganda that has become commonplace in false charges of ‘censorship’ or ‘book banning’ has apparently now been institutionalized with a week of its own.”

    Another of Sowell’s remarks is relevant to this current propaganda piece in The Nation: “Those who are spreading hysteria about book banning and censorship know that they are in a war, but too many of those who thoughtlessly repeat their rhetoric do not.”

    Even a former ALA councilor wrote that “the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don’t talk about much” is that “the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it’s totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.”

    “Totally different.” Kind of sheds new light on the claim that the “culprits, whether public officials, private interests or ‘decency’ groups” are “censors”–or that Governor Palin is one of “those who bully and abuse power.”

    DAN KLEINMAN
    SAFELIBRARIES.ORG
    Chatham, NJ

    09/18/2008 @ 3:20pm

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