September 10, 2008— -- The librarian at the center of a 1996 controversy with then-Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin says she can't recall any effort by Palin to ban specific books from the town library.
In her first public statement since Palin was named the GOP vice-presidential candidate, Mary Ellen Baker said today, "I simply do not recall a conversation with specific titles," Baker told ABCNews.com.
Palin has acknowledged she twice raised the issue in 1996 of how books could be removed from the shelves, but said it was only a "rhetorical question" and that she did not ask for any books to be banned.
Palin's church at the time, the Assembly of God, had been pushing for the removal a book called "Pastor I Am Gay" from local bookstores, according to the book's author Pastor Howard Bess, of the Church of the Covenant in nearby Palmer, Alaska.
"And she was one of them," said Bess, "this whole thing of controlling information, censorship, that's part of the scene," said Bess.
According to coverage in the local newspaper, the Frontiersman, Palin asked the librarian at a meeting "if she would object to censorship even if people were circling the library in protest about a book."
The report quotes the librarian as responding, "I told her clearly I will fight anyone who tries to indicate what books can go on the library shelves."
The same week that Palin raised the issue she fired Baker (then using her married name Emmons) as librarian, claiming she was not "loyal" to the new administration and had supported Palin's opponent in the election. She said the dismissal was not connected to questions of censorship, and that she had dismissed all city department heads and told them they could re-apply for their jobs.
After a public outcry, Palin rescinded the dismissal of the librarian.
The local newspaper reporter who covered the controversy, Paul Stuart, claims he was later told by the librarian that Palin wanted three specific books removed from the library.
In her statement to ABC News, the librarian said, "I am unable to dispute or substantiate the information Paul Stuart provided to you."
Stuart said he was confident of his memory. "She may have said that but that's not how it was."
After she got her job back, Baker spent two more years in Wasilla before leaving for a library job in Fairbanks.
She would not address her reasons for leaving Wasilla, but friends say she felt badly treated by Mayor Palin.
"I don't care to revisit that time in my life," Baker told ABC News.