The brouhaha over Palin's alleged "bookbanning" assumes the right answer to an issue I deem controversial: do citizens acting through their elected representatives have any right to try to influence library policy regarding which books are on the library shelves, and whether such books are available to children.

Let's start with first principles. From a libertarian perspective, the government shouldn't run libraries, not just because libertarians don't like the government to run almost anything, but because running a library inherently involves making a content-based decision as to what books are worthy or not worthy of being on the library shelves.

But we don't live in a libertarian society, and the government does run libraries. Librarians make content-based decisions as to what books should be on the shelves every day. Well-run libraries apparently typically have set policies as to how to determine whether or not to acquire books, but, as Earl Maltz points out, these policies obviously reflect background social/political norms. You're certainly not going to find a "classics comics" version of Mein Kampf in a public library, nor are you likely to find children's books (or, outside research libraries, adult books) that advocate slavery, racism, or other ideas deemed socially unacceptable. You are also unlikely to find Playboy, much less more hard-core pornographic magazines or books.

So, libraries engage in "censorship" every day; they just call it "professional discretion based on objective policies."

The question, then, is why taxpayers must defer to the professional librarians' decisions. Sure, librarians are "professionals." But citizens who complain about a particular children's book (for its presence or absence) may have Ph.D.s in child psychology, have raised 10 children and have 20 grandchildren, have MSWs and work with children all day, spent 20 years teaching in a seminary, or otherwise have a range of knowledge and experience that make them potentially more qualified than a librarian to determine what is or is not appropriate material for children.

For that matter, we don't let teachers teach whatever the heck they want simply because they are "professionals" relying on some allegedly objective criteria established by teachers' organizations. We have elected school boards that take public input into account.

Let's consider the book that Palin allegedly expressed concern about, "Daddy's Roommate." You can "search inside" this book on Amazon. From the pages I can see, it's about a boy whose parents got divorced last year, and whose father now has a male roommate, with whom he eats, works, and sleeps (with a picture of them in bed together). Readers are later told that Daddy and his roommate Frank are gay and that "being gay is just one more kind of love."

For the record, the book doesn't offend me, and indeed, I'd probably endorse its sentiments (I'd know better if I could read the whole thing). But the book would quite obviously be offensive to many parents who have traditional religious/moral views about sexual matters, as well as to parents who think that such mature content shouldn't be on the shelves for children to discover without parental permission/guidance.

Should these parents have a say in whether this book is available in the library? To what ages? With or without parental permission?

The way the Palin controversy has erupted, apparently parents (or elected officials) raising such questions would be "book banners."

But let's say a library stocked a children's book called "Adam and Eve." The book, which has sold 50,000 copies nationwide, explains that The Lord intended men and women to be couples, and that people who have same-sex relationships are violating the laws of God and nature, and are risking eternal damnation. The librarian had received several requests for this book, and finds it an age-appropriate way of explaining the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic position on sexuality to children.

A progressive parent complains that her child read this book in the library, and now is convinced that gay people are bad. She asks that the library remove the book from the shelf. Is she a "bookbanner?" If the librarian had refused to stock the book to begin with, despite its strong sales, the requests, and a finding of educational value and age-appropriateness, is he a "bookbanner"?