Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sebastopol Librarian fired over opposition to book banning by principal?

Was a librarian fired because he opposed the banning of a book by the principal of a school and because he spoke out in opposition to that banning? While I do not know both sides, I urge you to read the story below and come to your own conclusions.

A day after informing the District Superintendent that he saw no reason to meet with the principal who had banned a highly-regarded children's book -- until the principal had actually read the book that he had banned -- Sebastopol librarian and author Richie Partington was fired from his position as Library Consultant to the Bellevue Union School District in Santa Rosa, California.

Partington, a part-time member of the faculty in San Jose State University's School of Library and Information Science, and author of the popular children's book review website Richie's Picks, expressed his shock disappointment over what had happened. "Last week I was booktalking at District schools and literally had students fighting over who would first get to read the books I was presenting. The administrators must have thought that there must be something wrong with the books if the students wanted to read them so badly."

The book in question is, ironically, about a young hero in a society where nobody reads anymore. Rodman Philbrick's The Last Book in the Universe has been selected for inclusion by the American Library Association on its list for adolescents of "100 Best of the Best Books for the 21st Century" and has been subsequently nominated for numerous state children's book awards.

Partington, who is active in the American Library Association, had recently been appointed as one of fifteen librarians in the country to serve on the committee that will read thousands of new 2008 picture books and determine the winner of the ALA's prestigious Caldecott Medal.

Partington is best known for his reviews of soon-to-be-published books for children and adolescents that are regularly distributed to more than 8,000 librarians, teachers, and publishing executives worldwide and archived on his website at He is also known for having initiated in Sebastopol the nation's first No Name-Calling Week, which was based upon events in a children's book by James Howe titled The Misfits. No Name-Calling Week subsequently became a nationally-commemorated annual event with nearly half a million school children across America participating in last year's observance. (See


School Library Learning 2.0 Team said...

Ahhh... Banned books. Thanks to this Breaking News on a slow Thanksgiving afternoon, my daughter asked if she could borrow my copy of the "Last Book in the Universe." Yes! Hope she takes the story and controversy back with her to college on Sunday evening.

Good book. Worth a re-read.
Best wishes.
- JackieS

Wobbly Librarian said...

I hope we are slow to judgment on this... so far we have heard one side.....
No way should books be banned! But we need all the facts. Just the use of the term "fired" when he was a consultant is a little loaded. And the use of "local librarian" when he was in the role as an outside hired consultant to the district made it seem that the piece that was posted was loaded. So let us sit back and hope that there are some good reporters. Unfortunately, there may be some legal issues which might preclude the district discussing the contract.

Tom said...

That is why I re-wrote my introduction to his letter. It is less than clear. However, one does not preclude the other. He could be fired for insubordination and there could have been a banned book.

And legal issues aside, my guess is that there really was a book that was banned and the school did not follow its own policy. Will the school/district let us know their side? Highly doubtful.

Was he fired over his objection to the banning or because he refused to meet with the principal? I have no idea.

As for the "local librarian" angle, I believe that Partington is a librarian and is local. Does that not equate to local librarian?

Wobbly Librarian said...

I love that you re-wrote intro..... yes, we need some facts. No, one does not preclude the other.

I do *not* think we are disagreeing.
Posting on a national listserve (such as he has done with LM_net) using the term "local librarian" as the first 2 words seems to slant things.... Oh, well. Just want this to be a fair shake. Especially when we need to make strides with hiring professional people in California schools :)... Just need to keep our information seeking mode in order (just like we would when teaching our students to evaluate websites.....).

It was also interesting that the piece that was posted was written by Partington himself.... With that in mind, re-read all of it. Curious, don't you think?
If you lost a contract, how would you approach things on calib and lm_net? And then start thinking "what is his motivation?" Curiouser and curiouser.

Again, book banning is NOT good.

Tom said...

I don't think we are disagreeing either. My take on why he is doing it the way he is doing it is because that often results in the media attention he is seeking. Sometimes it takes that to get them to sit up and pay attention.

Rodman Philbrick said...

This is old news by now, but this posting was just passed on to me. There is nothing 'curiouser and curiouser' about a fired library consultant wanting to let the world know he's been canned for promoting a particular book. Do you really think the district officials are inclined to be transparent about this issue? That they would proudly announce what they had done? What's 'curiouser and curiouser' is the reaction to instinctively side with higher authorities on matters like this. My own motivations have know been questioned by the same superintendent who instantly declined my offer to speak to the kids at the school. Those of you who know me are aware that I'm not exactly a publicity hound and turn down scores of speaking invitations every year. I've never met Richie Partington, but my instinctive reaction was that if the guy had been fired for book-talking one of my novels to 6th graders, then the whole thing must be some big misunderstanding, and that if I offered to come to the school at my own expense and discuss my novel, then maybe wiser minds would prevail. No such luck. The last I heard Partington had not only been fired, but the district was now declining live up to the termination agreement. Merry Christmas, Mr. Partington, now please go away, and take your dreadful books with you.

Tom said...

I want to thank Mr. Philbrick for coming by. He is the author of the book in question. By the way, since this came about, I have purchased the book for my library and I hope others will do the same.

Clearly, the principal had an issue with the book. It is impossible for me to determine what exactly happened here. The news reports that I have read have seemed to favor the school.

Do I think that Partington should have met with the principal? Yes.

Am I concerned about the vagueness of the other "allegations" of, I would guess, poor job performance? Yes.