Saturday, September 6, 2008

Did Palin Try to Ban Books?

UPDATE: The list of books at the end of this post is inaccurate and we know now that no books were banned from the Wasilla Library. - LM, 9-9-08 8:15AM

As a librarian, any mention of book banning catches my attention, and that was one of the tidbits mentioned as the press explored John McCain's new running mate. Reporters flocked to Alaska in the last week to visit Palin's home town of Wasilla. Time Magazine has posted an article on their website entitled: Mayor Palin: A Rough Record.

The article starts by quoting John McCain as saying, "I found someone with an outstanding reputation for standing up to special interests and entrenched bureaucracies,"... Does "entrenched bureaucracies" include the local library?

The article goes on to interview, Joe Stein, the town's former mayor who, in all fairness, was defeated by Palin for the position. Here's what Stein had to say:

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." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

People have tried to ban books for "inappropriate language" for years now. In some cases, like The Catcher in the Rye, it's because of the use of profanities, esp. the "F" word. And then there's the politically correct crowd that wanted to ban Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for using the "N" word. And sometimes the objections come from the author "taking the Lord's name in vain". No matter the reason, it's still censorship and a violation of the First Amendment, or so we librarians tend to think.

So what books did Palin want to ban? There are lists making their way around the internet and via email, which may or may not be accurate. Both lists I saw (one sent to me by email, the other at start with A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Say what? This is a children's science fiction classic. I've read the book twice, once as a pre-teen and again a few years ago. I know there's no "inappropriate language" in that book. All I can figure is the book's world view isn't sufficiently Christian for the social conservative mindset.

A list of the books Palin supposedly wanted to ban:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
Confession, by Jean Jacques Rousseau
Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood, by the Grimm Brothers
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Lysistrata, by Aristophanes
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
Pigman, by Paul Zindel


Anything by Stephen King, everything by J.K. Rowling, just about everything by Roald Dahl, both of Mark Twain's major works, most of Judy Blume, most of William
Shakespeare, and (this is truly mind-boggling) Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff.

Some of these come as no surprise, but others have me scratching my head. Little Red Riding Hood??? Webster's Ninth? Can this be for real? And if it is, do we really want this woman as vice-president? I just hope they don't let her anywhere near the Library of Congress.



Travis Erwin said...

Interesting. I hope to learn more about this. off to do some research.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Let me know what you find, Travis. We know so little about the goings on in Wasilla, Alaska. I'd never even heard of the town till last week!


Rhonda said...

To Kill a Mockingbird?? Oh - I guess because it's about a rape case.

Yeah, I'd like to learn more, too.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Rhonda, yes, some books are challenged for having "mature" themes, but it's usually in school libraries not public libraries where, presumably, you have adult patrons as well as children. I can understand parents monitoring their children's reading, but to ban books for adults at the public libary? That goes a little too far, I think.


Terrie Farley Moran said...


I try to keep my political views off the blogosphere.

Still, as a writer I was horrified at the idea of any government official even thinking about banning books. So, I investigated through several sources and then went to Snopes the fact check site. Based on my research, I believe then-Mayor Palin did in fact try to ban books, fired the librarian when she refused to ban the books and when there was a furor in the town,then-Mayor Palin re-hired the librarian, who shortly thereafter left to take another job.

Here is a quote that Snopes has confirmed from Wasilla resident Anne Kilkenny:

"While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. 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. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day."

Here is the snopes link to the entire letter Ms Kilkenny wrote:

Here is the Snopes link to a number of letters purported to be from Alaska residents re: Governor Palin and on this site Snopes concluded that Anne Kilkenny's letter is the real deal.

I am convinced and appalled. Let's see what Travis comes up with.


Anonymous said...

>>Can this be for real?<<

No. The list is fake. Sarah Palin never tried to ban any books. In response to multiple inquiries, the City of Wasilla has now issued a statement which includes a list of the Wasilla Public Library challenged books -- all four of them. All four of the challenges occurred either years before or years after Palin was mayor (1996-2002).

Year of Challenge: Pre-1986
Item Challenged: Angel Dust Blues by Todd Strasser
Result: Creation of "Young Adult" section in library and placement of item in section

Year of Challenge: 1986
Item Challenged: Bumps in the Night by Harvey Allard
Result: Remained on shelf

Year of Challenge: 2005
Item Challenged: America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Steward (sic)
Result: Remained on shelf

Year of Challenge: 2007
Item Challenged: The Abduction by Mette Newth
Result: Remained on shelf

Go to and click on "Banned or Censured Books Response."

Linda McLaughlin said...

Terrie and Anonymous, thanks for investigating, but we're still getting two points of view. It seems the citizens of Wasilla don't agree on this or some of them have private (or public) agendas. Interesting. How funny someone challenged Jon Stewart's book. Must have some inappropriate language in it. What a surprise. ;)


whodoithinkiam said...

Hi Linda: finally came through today and here's the scoop:

I'm not one of her fans, but it does appear that there were a few exaggerations.


Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi Linda,

So I kept going. From another fact check site:

Palin did not ask for any actual books to be banned.
According to Anchorage Daily News, Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin asked librarian Mary Ellen Baker if she would be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so. Baker's reply was that she would definitely not be all right with it. When questioned about this Palin called her inquiries rhetorical and simply part of a policy discussion with a department head "about understanding and following administration agendas." Baker resigned shortly before Palin began her second term.

This is more in line with what I had originally heard, that she talked about it but the idea was unpopular with the town. I never saw a list until your post.

Still, I am disturbed that the Mayor even brought the idea into conversation both with the librarian and at a city council meeting. BTW Baker is the librarian's name now. she had a different name when these events occurred.

Okay, I'm done looking this stuff up. Back to researching for my stories now.


Linda McLaughlin said...

Thanks, David. I'll see what has to say and post an update tomorrow.


Linda McLaughlin said...

Terrie, yes, it seems like the impulse was there, even no books were actually banned. I find the idea of "loyalty tests" disturbing, also. Seems to me the loyalty of city employees should be to the people of the town, not the mayor. Personal loyalty should be earned not demanded, IMO.