- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Just how representative of its readers should a library be?

Should a library system in a heavily Democratic county have a surplus of left-leaning books? Should a majority Republican county be weighted toward conservative literature?

In an on-line survey of six Washington-area library systems, The Washington Times found that all had listings favoring, by varying degrees, the liberal side of the political spectrum. Fairfax (Va.) and Prince George's County (Md.) systems leaned the least; the District of Columbia and Montgomery (Md.), Frederick (Va.), Arlington (Va.) County systems veered left the most.

The topic surfaced recently when a conservative Web site reported that a public library in Toledo, Ohio, was giving unequal treatment to conservative patrons.

An anonymous library staff member told www.WorldNetDaily.com that while the library was allowing the local Planned Parenthood affiliate to meet on its property, it was turning down similar requests by conservative organizations such as Young Republicans or local Christian Coalition groups.

Local media picked up the story in June, and the matter was discussed on "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger's radio talk show. Although the Toledo Blade newspaper found the Web site's assertions were exaggerated, they touched on another facet of the debate the political slant of books ordered by librarians. Back in 1996, the Toledo library had rejected a couple's donation of two copies of a highly critical biography of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger.

The book, "Killer Angel," by pro-life activist George Grant, connected Mrs. Sanger to Nazi and racist policies. The library system already owned 12 biographies of Mrs. Sanger, library spokesman David Noel explained.

"The tone of the book seemed to make it more of a diatribe than a biography," he said. But, he added, the library shows no bias against conservative opinions.

"I don't think we're particularly liberal," he said. "There's a saying that goes, 'The ideal library collection makes everyone a little mad.' "

But what is ideal? The Washington Times' survey asked whether libraries are ordering more copies of, say, Clinton adviser James Carville's tomes than those of Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.

And how did numbers of books by Hillary Rodham Clinton stack up against those by her Republican nemesis, Peggy Noonan?

The Washington Times selected 10 conservative and 10 liberal titles in on-line catalogs in the District of Columbia and Fairfax, Arlington, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's County library systems. All had been published within the past decade. The newspaper then checked on how many copies were ordered of the conservative and liberal books.

The Washington Post's former publisher Katherine Graham's Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography, "Personal History," far outnumbered the other books on the list at 262 copies among the six library systems.

Barbara Olson's anti-Hillary book, "Hell to Pay," was the second-most-frequent title with 124 copies.

The other top five books were "The Case Against Hillary Clinton," by former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan, Mrs. Clinton's own best seller, "It Takes a Village," and "… And the Horse He Rode in On," Mr. Carville's anti-Kenneth Starr book.

The bottom runners, each with fewer than 35 copies among the approximately 100 branch libraries represented, were "Love, Ellen," about lesbian actress Ellen DeGeneres' relationship with her mother; Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson's new book, "How Now Shall We Live?"; and "Hating Whitey" by David Horowitz, a former left-wing radical who has become a conservative.

University of California regent Ward Connerly's "Creating Equal," which opposes affirmative action, was not stocked at all in the D.C. system, which serves a 70 percent black population. Nor did the Arlington County system offer it.

The balance of liberal to conservative books differed depending on the county. They were most equal in the Fairfax and Prince George's county systems. On-line catalogs for both counties showed liberal titles totaled 55 percent and conservative titles totaled about 45 percent of the books. The latter category included 19 copies of Mr. Colson's newest book in Fairfax County libraries. Prison Fellowship's headquarters is in Reston, within county lines.

But in largely Democratic Arlington County, the slant was more pronounced. In ordering copies of the 20 books, Arlington's picks were 59 percent liberal and 41 percent conservative.

Library systems in the District, Montgomery and Frederick counties showed a considerable slant to the left, with liberal titles accounting for about 63 percent of the District's 288 copies of the books, 63 percent of Montgomery's 395 copies, and about 67 percent of Frederick County's 40 copies.

However, it should be noted that of the six counties, Montgomery ordered the most copies (34) of the 1999 best seller by Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, "Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security."

Montgomery County is a Democratic stronghold. Frederick County is predominantly Republican and conservative.

Darrell Batson, director of Frederick County libraries, said if apparent imbalance is "a weakness on our part, we need to address it."

He also pointed out that many of the larger, more recognized publishing houses publish more liberal books, while conservative viewpoints may be published by comparatively obscure think tanks or less recognized publishers.

Thanks to library courier services and a national library loan system, a patron can get just about any book within a few days, he said. However, this is of little help to people who need information quickly or who rely on what's immediately available on the shelves.

"It's impossible to have everything there," he said. "The problem is, we live in a world of instant gratification."

Naralita Freeny, interim director of Prince George's County public libraries, said making sure all viewpoints are represented is important to the library, even in a smaller system like Prince George's.

"We try to have a balance," she said. "We may not have as many copies, but we have both sides of an issue."

Spokesmen for the remaining systems were at loss to explain why their listings showed a liberal bias. They did say their books pass through a selection committee, which reads reviews in Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher's Weekly and Booklist. Selection committees also take patron requests and donations into account.

"We should represent various points of view," insisted Yema Tucker, adult services coordinator for the D.C. libraries. "We must not let our own opinions get in the way."

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