13 September 2008

Update on “What if...I asked you to remove some books?”

Earlier this week I collected some links to news stories on Sarah Palin's inquiry about removing books from the Wasilla, Alaska, public library when she became mayor of that small city at the end of 1996. There's been some new reporting on that event, so this is an update.

On 10 September, ABC News reported that Paul Stuart, who wrote the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman article I cited before, clearly recalls hearing from the Wasilla city librarian that incoming mayor Palin had "wanted three specific books removed from the library." The librarian could neither confirm nor deny that recollection.

At the time, Palin's church (which she has since left for another) was pushing local bookstores not to stock Pastor, I Am Gay, by a minister in a nearby town. According to PolitiFact, Stuart identified that book as one of the three he recalled the librarian said was at issue, but he didn't remember the title accurately until prompted.

There's no record of an official challenge to any book in the Wasilla library at that time, not even Pastor, I Am Gay. The author recalled donating at least two copies to the Wasilla library that were soon checked out and never returned (not an uncommon way for ideologues to restrict access to books). According to WorldCat, there are no copies in the Wasilla Public Library collection today (though the library in the minister's former town has some).

The McCain-Palin campaign has tried to reframe the story of Palin's inquiries, as the AP reported this week:

He [A spokesperson] said a patron had asked the library to remove a title the year before and the mayor wanted to understand how such disputes were handled.
As noted above, there's no record of a patron challenging any book at that time. That patron became merely hypothetical when Palin herself talked to Charles Gibson on ABC:
When I became mayor, in our town was the issue of what if a parent came into a--our local public library and asked for a book to be taken off the shelf. What’s the policy?
But the record from 1996-97 shows that Palin didn't ask how the library handled challenges in general. She repeatedly framed her questions as inquiries from herself as mayor: "What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?" An explanation of policies obviously didn't satisfy Palin according to the Frontiersman article:
“This is different than a normal book-selection procedure or a book-challenge policy,” [librarian Mary Ann] Emmons stressed Saturday. “She was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can't be in the library.”
Palin went on to raise the prospect of "people...circling the library in protest about a book"--again, not the challenge process.

Furthermore, the Frontiersman reported back then, "Palin used the library topic as an example of discussions with her department heads about understanding and following administration agendas." The Anchorage Daily News stories on the librarian's subsequent firing and Palin's reversal days later both confirm that loyalty was the issue.

Palin didn't follow through on firing the librarian or having books removed. However, the more we know about this incident, the clearer it is that she would have if there hadn't been a public outcry. Furthermore, it's increasingly obvious that Palin and her campaign handlers don't tell the truth.


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