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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley September 10, 2008

Let's ban this list

There’s an e-mail circulating around the Internet that purports to be a list of books that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin once tried to have removed from the Wasilla, Alaska, public library shortly after she was elected the city’s mayor in 1996.

The title on the e-mail is “The Books Sarah Palin tried to have banned” and it claims to reflect a list taken from the official minutes of the Wasilla Library Board. ( Read it for yourself here. )

The list of 93 books includes such classics as Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice ; young adult novels such as Forever by Judy Blume and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier; even a few Stephen King novels such as Cujo and The Shining . It's a vitual who's who of frequently banned books.

Inundated with questions about the issue, Wasilla Mayor Diane M. Keller released a statement saying, “We have no records of any books being ‘banned or censored’ ever .”

Keller told PolitiFact that city officials scoured board minutes and weren’t able to substantiate that the issue of book removal was ever raised by Palin in a meeting. Nor does Keller, who was a council member at the time, recall any such conversations.

We looked into a claim in an e-mail from longtime Wasilla resident Anne Kilkenny, who said that Palin asked the city librarian at a council meeting if she would consider removing books from the library, but that the librarian refused. Palin later said in a local newspaper article that the questions were rhetorical, and that she had no particular books or other material in mind when she posed them. You can read our blow-by-blow account of the issue here.

Kilkenny said she did not recall that any titles were ever mentioned, and the former Wasilla librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, recently told ABC News that she also could not recall that Palin had ever mentioned specific titles.

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Jeanne Troshynski, president of the Friends of Wasilla Library, said the last formal request to remove a book came in 2005, with the challenge of a book written by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show called America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. That was three years after Palin left office as mayor.

Wasilla records show the last formal challenge before that was in 1986 to Bumps in the Night, by Harvey Allard — well before Palin’s tenure as mayor. In both cases, the challenges were denied and the books remained on the shelf.

June Pinell-Stephens, longtime chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Alaska Library Association, said she scoured the organization’s archives and could find no record of any formal actions to ban books in Wasilla under Palin’s tenure as mayor.

So we can say for certain that no book was ever banned. Nor is there any record that Palin ever initiated a formal process to censor any books, as the e-mail suggests.

The 93 titles in the chain e-mail appear to be a generic list of frequently banned books. It was not part of the official minutes of the Wasilla Library Board.

In fact, the first book in the Harry Potter series wasn't released in the United States until 1998, two years after this list is alleged to have been generated. In short, the list is a fake. We give the whole e-mail a Pants on Fire.

Update: After this item was posted, a reader pointed out that the list is identical to one posted on an old Web site for Adler and Robin Books, a literary agent and book packager based in Washington D.C. Company President Bill Adler confirmed that he compiled the list of books banned in the United States several years ago and posted it on his company Web site as a public service. Adler said the list was first generated through public records, and then was added onto as readers sent in additional banned titles over the years. Adler said he got a few e-mails last week alerting him that his list had been co-opted. He checked, and the alleged Palin list was identical to his. He said he doesn't know who may have copied and pasted it into the bogus Palin chain e-mail. "We are now a small footnote in history, I guess," Adler said.


Our Sources

The Frontiersman, "Palin: Library censorship inquiries 'Rhetorical'" by Paul Stuart, Dec. 18, 1996

City of Wasilla, "Banned or Censured Books Response"

Chain e-mail, "Chain e-mail on banned books"

Sept. 9, 2008

Anchorage Daily News, "Palin pressured Wasilla librarian" by Rindi White, Sept. 4, 2008

ABC News, "Did Palin Try to Ban Books? Librarian Can't Recall" by Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz and Anna Schecter, Sept. 10, 2008

Interview with Annie Kilkenny, Sept. 4, 2008

Interview with June Pinell-Stephens, chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Alaska Library Association, Sept. 8, 2008

Interview with Wasilla Mayor Diane M. Keller, Sept. 8, 2008

Interview with Jeanne Troshynski, president of the Friends of Wasilla Library, Sept. 5, 2008

Interview with Paul Stuart, former political reporter with the Frontiersman, Sept. 8, 2008


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