Sarah Palin’s List

For some reason, “the media” seems to have latched onto this story about Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s efforts to ban books at the library in Wasilla, Alaska. It is true that while Ms. Palin was Mayor of Wasilla, she asked the library director “What would be your response if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?”; however, what seems to not be known widely is that Ms. Palin never had a specific list of titles she wanted to censor. Rather, this question was part of a vetting process (to use another term “the media” likes to talk about) the mayor used to see how friendly the head librarian would be to the incoming administration. Mayor Palin later fired, then reinstated the Wasilla library director because in that community, the department heads serve “at the pleasure of the mayor.” In other words, it was well within her political pervue to hire or fire the librarian and police chief or any other city administrator. To me, this is not so much a story about book banning as it is about a misunderstanding of the job duties of a library administrator. Instead of thinking of a public librarian as a political figure, I wish that Ms. Palin would have seen the library director as an ally and an asset to any administration. The public librarian should be willing and able to help anyone of any political persuasion to find and sort through information resources. When a patron walks through our front doors, they do so out of intellectual curiosity (or if they need to check their Facebook account) and because we work for them, we should be able to put on political blinders for their sake. With our collection development policies, we should choose material that will benefit all members of the community, not just the members of the political party in power at that moment. I hope that if Ms. Palin moves on to the White House this fall, she crosses paths with First Lady Laura Bush. Ms. Bush has been a vocal advocate for libraries and librarians since her husband took office eight years ago; perhaps she could offer Sarah Palin a different perspective of what librarians do. In a perfect world, all public servants should be able to rise above the bitter partisanship that divides so many Americans; in our world, hopefully the public library is a place where we can go to get a little closer to this ideal.

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