Today, What Fresh Hell is extremely fortunate to host NYT Bestselling Author and Generally Awesome Person Tess Gerritsen. This post was originally intended for the gang-blog upon which we both appear, Murderati, but since Murderati isn't an explicitly political blog, there was some discomfort with the subject matter. So I invited Tess over here, where we do discuss politics, once in a great long while..... take it away, Tess!
THE LIBRARIAN WHO SAID NO TO SARAH PALIN
by Tess Gerritsen
It has been my practice to avoid any political commentary when I blog. There are good people on both sides of the aisle, and I have no wish to offend anyone. But this column isn’t really about politics; it’s about censorship, which most writers claim to be against, even though most are oddly and tellingly silent about this particular instance of it. It’s also about our country’s guardians of free thought, those fearless foot soldiers who have long protected our right to read what we want to read. (So long as we keep our voices hushed while browsing the stacks.)
I'm talking about librarians.
Librarians don't usually make it into the news, but these are unusual times. There's been a lot of excitement over Sarah Palin's candidacy for Vice President, and no wonder. She's clearly intelligent, she has a compelling personal story, and she even knows how to kill and field-dress a moose. But in all the hoopla, another woman's name has quietly surfaced from Sarah Palin's political past, a name that many may have missed: Mary Ellen Emmons.
She's the librarian who once stood up to Sarah Palin. And got fired for it.
In case you haven't been following the story, here's a summary from the New York Times:
Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.
Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin's first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. "They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her," Ms. Kilkenny said.
The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to "resist all efforts at censorship," Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.
In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were "rhetorical."
This story has also been covered by a number of other sources, including Time Magazine, the Boston Herald, and School Library Journal. It's been picked up by library blogs. The Frontiersman, the
"I'm not trying to suppress anyone's views," Emmons said. "But I told her (Palin) clearly, I will fight anyone who tries to dictate what books can go on the library shelves."
Palin said Monday she had no particular books or other material in mind when she posed the questions to Emmons...
But on Monday, Oct. 28, Emmons said Palin asked her outright if she could live with censorship of library books. This was during a week when Palin was requesting resignations from all the city's department heads as a way of expressing loyalty...
Emmons recalled that (during) the Oct. 28 conversation she pulled no punches with her response to the mayor. "She asked me if I would object to censorship, and I replied 'Yup,'" Emmons recounted Saturday. "And I told her it would not be just me. This was a constitutional question, and the American Civil Liberties
Imagine that -- a librarian against censorship. The gall! The insubordination!
And the incredible, steely courage. Yes, we are talking courage. By taking a stand, one that principled librarians have taken again and again in defense of the public's access to information, Ms. Emmons faced consequences. She was fired. It was only because of the public's outcry that Ms. Emmons was able to return to her job.
This is more than a story about one librarian's heroism. It's also a story that should give every writer, every publisher, every reader, a chill up the spine. Since when do mayors dictate which books are in their town libraries? Since when do public officials in our
And if those government officials insist on doing their jobs and standing by the facts, will they too be fired?
I fervently want a woman in the White House someday, but that desire does not make me blind to a candidate's flaws. And if you think it's okay to fire a librarian who refuses to go along with censorship, you are indeed flawed.
Librarians have always stood up for writers; now it’s time for writers to stand up for librarians – even though there will almost certainly be repercussions. No doubt there are some people who will never buy another one of my books because of what I've just written. Perhaps they'll demand that my books be banned from libraries. Perhaps they don't think that censorship is that big a deal. Or they don't mind being told what they can and cannot read. Or they want a woman in the White House so badly that they're willing to take the first one who comes along.
So let me offer an alternative candidate for the White House, a woman who's already proven her courage. A woman who's taken a principled stand against powerful political forces. She even hails from
I nominate Mary Ellen Emmons for President.
Thanks for being here, Tess, and that's one I'd vote for, I think. I do love me some librarians.....
Tess' latest book is The Keepsake, and if you haven't checked her work out before, now's a good time to start. She writes some of the best thrillers in the business. A list can be found here.