campaign is defending Alaska governor Sarah Palin's
much-criticized inquiry into banning books at her hometown
library, saying her questions were only hypothetical.
taking office in 1996 as mayor of Wasilla, a city of about
10,000 people, Palin asked the city's head librarian about
banning books. Later, the librarian was notified by
Palin that she was being fired, although Palin backed
off under pressure.
attempt at book-banning has been a matter of intense
interest since Republican presidential nominee John McCain
named her as his running mate last month.
Taylor Griffin, a
spokesman for the McCain campaign, said Thursday that
Palin asked the head librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, on three
occasions how she would react to attempts at banning
books. He said the questions, in the fall of 1996,
were hypothetical and entirely appropriate. He 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.
Records on the
city's website, however, do not show any books were
challenged in Wasilla in the 10 years before Palin took
Emmons she would be fired in January 1997 because the
mayor didn't feel she had the librarian's ''full support.''
Emmons was reinstated the next day after public
outcry, according to newspaper reports at the time.
longtime library staffer recalls that the run-in made
everyone fear for their jobs.
gave us some terrible moments and some rather gut-wrenching
moments, particularly when Mary Ellen said she was going to
have to leave,'' said Cathy Petrie, who managed the
children's collection at the time.
has been fueled by Wasilla housewife Anne Kilkenny, whose
2,400-word critique of Palin's legacy as mayor is widely
posted on the Internet. Kilkenny described Palin's
actions as ''out-and-out censorship.''
But the McCain
campaign, in a statement, said the charge ''is
categorically false ... Governor Sarah Palin has never asked
anyone to ban a book, period.''
Emmons, a former
Alaska Library Association president who now goes by
Mary Ellen Baker, did not return calls seeking comment.
According to the
Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper, Emmons did
not mince words when Palin asked her ''how I would deal with
her saying a book can't be in the library'' on October
28, 1996, in a week when the mayor had asked
department heads for letters of resignation.
''She asked me if
I would object to censorship, and I replied 'Yup,'''
Emmons told a reporter. ''And I told her it would not be
just me. This was a constitutional question, and the
American Civil Liberties Union would get involved
Howard Bess, a liberal Christian preacher in the nearby town
of Palmer, said the church Palin and her family attended
until 2002, the Wasilla Assembly of God, was pushing
to remove his book from local bookstores.
Emmons told him
that year that several copies of Pastor, I Am Gay
had disappeared from the library shelves, Bess said.
pressure on the library about things she didn't like,''
Bess said. ''To believe that my book was not targeted in
this is a joke.''
Other locals said
the dustup had been blown out of proportion.
''That was many
years ago and Sarah never had any intention to ban
books,'' said David Chappel, who served as Palin's deputy
mayor for three years. ''There were some vocal people
in the minority, and it looks like they're still out
Jim Rettig, a
University of Richmond librarian who heads the
Chicago-based American Library Association, suggested that
the lingering quarrel raises issues that are still
relevant as librarians prepare to celebrate Banned
Books Week later this month.
very committed to the principles of the First Amendment
of the Constitution and that means we don't allow one
individual or a group of people to dictate what people
can or cannot read,'' he said. ''Most librarians, if
they got that sort of a question, would be curious as
to what the intent of the questioner was.'' (Garance Burke,