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Who's The Library Bully?

As part of the microscopic scrutiny applied to Sarah Palin's record, the public has been told that as the incoming Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska in 1996, Palin dared to ask the town librarian what would happen if anyone objected to an inappropriate book. She merely inquired, but "anti-censorship" activists, perpetually filled with visions of a trash can full of burning books, exploded.

At the time, the Anchorage Daily News captured the librarian, one Mary Ellen Emmons, putting up her First Amendment dukes. “I told her clearly, I will fight anyone who tries to dictate what books can go on the library shelves,” she said. “And I told her it would not be just me. This was a constitutional question, and the American Civil Liberties Union would get involved, too.”

Not one book was jostled. June Pinell-Stephens, a long-time chairwoman of the Alaska Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee, had no evidence of banning or any record of any phone conversations with Emmons about the issue back then. Emmons was president of the Alaska Library Association at the time.

As is so often the case, the horrified reactions were almost the only voices heard in the recounting of this old tale. The Governor laughed it off, as well she could, as it became clear that faked lists of Wasilla's banned books were just baseless Internet babble. But it's worth underlining the Emmons call to arms: "I will fight anyone who tries to dictate what books can go on the library shelves."

In public libraries across America – public institutions funded wholly or in large part by taxpayer money – the librarians have appointed themselves the Czars of Acceptable Information. Any citizen daring to question their unfathomably deep taste and literary judgment are mysteriously designated as the bullies and the authoritarians. Does this sound like democracy in action, the free exchange of ideas? It sounds more like the librarian glaring at the taxpayers and gesturing at them to pipe down, rowdy children, pipe down.

In reality, they are the authoritarians; the bullies are often the lawyers from the ACLU.

Take the case of Nampa, Idaho, where the Nampa Public Library Board made the decision by a vote of 3 to 2 in June to respond to a parent's complaint and move the graphically illustrated books "The Joy of Sex" and "The Joy of Gay Sex" to the library director's office, where only those who specifically requested the tomes could see them. The parent activist, Randy Jackson, was stunned to hear in 2005 that these books were lying around on the library tables for any child to page through. "The Joy of Gay Sex" has a chapter in it entitled “Daddy/Son Fantasies.” Other chapter titles include "Exhibitionism and Voyeurism," "Fisting," and "Sex with Animals."

Immediately, one wonders: Who were the two who felt it appropriate to display this garbage in a public library, in front of children?

No matter. That split decision was quickly overturned. The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho sent a threatening letter to the library on August 25 demanding that the books be put back on display since any restriction on graphic sex books "violates the constitutional rights of library visitors." The library board unanimously caved to the demand, since the city attorney warned that it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the deep-pocketed "anti-censorship" bullies.

It's apparently now a national consensus that any taxpayer challenge to a taxpayer-funded librarian's unilateral decision "violates the constitutional rights of library visitors." The librarian's original decision to stock the books and display them, in Nampa or anywhere else, is never to be questioned. But if the librarian chooses not to select and display a title, then apparently the constitutional rights of library visitors are never violated.

It's that time of year when the American Library Association hosts Banned Books Week and many libraries schedule events where "banned" books are proudly read aloud. Let's hope none of those self-congratulating First Amendment guardians will read the aforementioned "Sex with Animals" section of Nampa's most favored sex book.

But perhaps it's time for someone to make a list of the Most Ignored Books by librarians. It might make interesting reading to see what public libraries never choose to display. With an estimated 170,000 new books in the United States each year, the librarians are "censoring" an enormous amount of material. Not only that, they're regularly removing books from the shelves for being out of date or suffering from a low check-out rate. Aren't they doing a lot more book disposal than any censorious citizen with an imaginary book-burning torch?