Libraries or Librarians (Redux)
Categories and Exceptions

Evidence Based Librarianship?

I have this naive, idealistic notion that librarians, moreso than the members of most other professions, should be particularly scrupulous about facts.  My idealism is often tested.  The latest disappointment comes from the rising tide of hysteria in the biblioblogosphere over Sarah Palin's attempts to ban books when she was mayor of Wasilla and for trying to fire the city librarian for failing to do so.  But a careful reading of the facts reveals no evidence for either of these charges.

The fullest account that I'm aware of is in the Anchorage Daily News, but even a careful reading of the Time magazine article, which appears to be where most people picked up the charge, gives a subtly different picture.

Palin clearly inquired of the librarian, at least three times, what her position would be if she were asked to censor books.  The librarian was aghast at the very suggestion.  Given Palin's background, I think it is reasonable to assume that if a case had arisen where a citizen wanted something removed from the library, Palin would have supported it.  My guess is that her questions to the librarian were intended, at least in part, to get an idea of how big a fight she'd put up and what kind of process was in place.   But there is no indication that an attempt to ban or censor anything ever actually occurred.

Palin definitely tried to fire the librarian, as she did other city officials.  She did fire the police chief.  Both the librarian and the police chief had publicly supported her opponent in the mayoral election.  The police chief had nothing to do with banning books, and Palin backed down on firing the librarian.  Did the librarian's response to the inquiries about banning books add to Palin's concerns about her "loyalty"?  It certainly didn't do her any good.  But there isn't any evidence that it was the primary cause for the attempted firing.

Palin's speech on Wednesday was a breathtakingly cynical array of exaggerations, misleading statements and outright lies.  There are lots of good reasons to be opposed to her election as Vice-President, and I would not want to be misinterpreted as trying to defend her.  But I suffer from this quaint devotion to the facts and it's hard for me to see how claiming that Palin attempted to ban books and then tried to fire the librarian for failing to do so is any different than claiming the Michelle Obama hates America or that Barack is going to raise everybody's taxes or any of the other ridiculous claims that set democratic supporters frothing over the terrible misdeeds of Republicans.

If those who support Obama can't do any better than that, one could almost be forgiven for sitting this election out.  I won't, because I think the issues are too important, but I'm often not much happier with those who are supposedly on "my side" than I am with those on the other.


Marcus Banks

The fact that Palin even contemplated censorship is what is worrisome. I support the spirit but not the letter of the outrage. It's obvious that people weren't minding all the facts at hand.

I admit to slipping onto this anti-Palin bandwagon somewhat; via Facebook I alerted people to the Librarians Against Palin site, but as something they should know about. I tried to be neutral, but the announcement itself was an endorsement.

So this post is a useful corrective, and it is indeed the case that librarians rushed to judgment. Then again, all that rushing--and, now, backtracking--has taken place in just a week. So perhaps it followed an "arc of hysteria," which is easier to create online.


Thank you so much for writing this!

Even before the Palin announcement I was bugged by the emphatic lack of commentary by "librarians" on the choice of Biden, long-time friend of the FBI and copyright holders.

I posted about this on Facebook and got smacked down because, you know, Obama is "inspirational." Then the Palin thing hit and there is massive hysteria that she may have even considered book banning. I do not support book banning in any way--although I do support one's right to the idea--but there simply is no evidence that she did so.

Palin may have had some negative effect on a local community while Biden has had large negative effects on all (or most) Americans. But I guess it is so much easier to just get hysterical and go "Ugh!" over a theoretically potential book banning than the admittedly more complex issues influenced by Biden, even though his record is easily checked in the Congressional Record and other places.

Emotion is so much easier than research, I guess.


Hello, I also do not support book banning. I believe denying the right of something only entices the interest of it. So from what ive been reading there was no evidence of the banning of books? I guess it was just an attemt to attack her character ( they couldnt find anything else )... I dont know.

Biden has charm... experience he has not.

There seems to be so many twist and turns in this presidential race.


I'm all for a calm examination of facts, but that's what Kerry did in 2004 after the Swiftboat attacks, and we all know what happened. Yes, we should all play fair, but frankly, if "our side" plays fair, we lose. I want to quote extensively from a comment posted at Crooks & Liars that touched on this topic:

"[It's] about challenging someone to an honorable duel, pistols at ten paces, only to get shot in the back of the head on pace number three. Repeatedly. Fair play doesn’t work when the other team enjoys a different set of rules. We live in a world where a draft dodger gets to question the military credentials of a man with a Purple Heart and get away with it. Where the news media doesn’t bat an eye when the Republicans position themselves as the party representing women’s rights. Where only the white families are off limits. When Karl Rove can work for a TV news network and advise a candidate at the same time without anyone at any other networks (other than Olbermann) saying, 'Um, what the hell?'. They don’t 'work the refs', they ARE the refs. Once the other side has thrown the rule book away, it is defeatist to continue to follow it. It’s not even an honorable defeat. It’s sacrificing our children’s future upon the altar of principle. It is refusing to do what is necessary to stop the people who are raping our country, because the rulebook, that only we follow, says that we must follow certain procedures. No. The real principled stand is to stop the Republicans by any means necessary. Then we can root out the rampant corruption and rot in the Democratic party. Then we can talk about playing fair. Until then, it’s a losers game. Nobody’s 'off limits'. If the Founding Fathers had played fair, we’d still be living under the Union Jack."

That's the kind of political world we now live in. The Queensbury's rules no longer apply. To be shocked and disappointed at "our side" using their tactics is not only naive, but smacks of ivory towers.

Michael Lindsay

Thanks for a balanced account on an issue that hasn't seen much balance elsewhere.


But isn't this a cheap shot at Evidence Based Librarianship?

T Scott

John -- it certainly wasn't intended to be a cheap shot. I titled the post that way to suggest that just as we (as librarians) are trying to do a better job about using the best evidence in the work that we do as librarians, we ought to be just as scrupulous about using clear evidence when making claims about other issues. Not quite sure why you think that's a "cheap shot."

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