Director: Library Diaries Author Invaded Patrons’ Privacy

Director: Library Diaries Author Invaded Patrons’ Privacy

The director of the Mason County (Mich.) District Library contends that he did not violate the First Amendment rights of a library assistant he fired in late July after reading her unflattering book about the quirky and disreputable characters who populate Library Diaries. Robert Dickson told American Libraries that “every single character in the book is a specific, identifiable person with nothing changed [except their names],” some 15–20 of which are real-life patrons of the Ludington library Dickson heads and at which author Sally Stern-Hamilton worked for 15 years. “The information she’s learned about these people over the years was revealed in the book, and our immediate reaction was that this was an invasion of privacy.”

Stern-Hamilton said in the July 18 Ludington Daily News that she finds her firing from a public library for writing a book an “absolute irony” since libraries are “a pillar of free speech” and the book a work of fiction. Conceding in an August 26 interview [30 minutes] with ABC-TV affiliate WZZM that “some of the characters are taken from characters at the library,” she explained that her motivation for writing Library Diaries was “primarily to let people know about what’s going on in public libraries these days,” specifically that “there’s pedophiles in the library, there’s sex offenders in the library.”

Issued June 9 by the print-on-demand firm Publish America, the introduction to Library Diaries states, “After working at a public library in a small, rural Midwestern town (which I will refer to as Denialville, Michigan, throughout this book) for 15 years, I have encountered strains and variations of crazy I didn’t know existed in such significant portions of our population.” While Ludington is never mentioned by name, the book cover includes a small photo of the Carnegie building’s exterior as part of a collage.

Dickson told AL that he first became aware Stern-Hamilton had written a book, which she published under the pen name Ann Miketa, when “a patron brought it in [in mid-June] and said, ‘Do you know Sally’s written a book?’” and that Stern-Hamilton was promoting its release through postcards, e-mails, and conversations with patrons, as well as public readings at a local café. He ordered a copy for the library and after reading the book, “it didn’t take me very long to realize [Stern-Hamilton] isn’t cut out for public service” despite her long tenure there. He cited as typical a chapter entitled “The Bonkers,” the author’s fictionalized name for an overweight Ludington family that, according to Stern-Hamilton, has “not one high school diploma between the four. They check out the GED book, but none of them have successfully taken the test.” She also reveals that the daughter is pregnant and opines, “There are plenty of dumb drunks who will have sex indiscriminately.”

Asserting that she anticipated Dickson’s reaction to the book, Stern-Hamilton told WZZM that popular culture “makes fun of people all the time,” but that Library Diaries “turns the whole concept of compassion over. What is mean-spirited? Letting someone who can’t take care of children have them? Letting pedophiles and sex offenders come to your library and risking children’s safety?” Acknowledging that “some people say [the book] is a thesis for eugenics,” she added “you cannot broach the subject without the knee-jerk reaction of ‘Oh, she’s a Nazi.’” At the end of the interview, she indicated she will not appeal her dismissal.

Posted on August 30, 2008. Discuss.