- FUN FEATURES
A book about the 2007 Petit family killings will be stocked at the Cheshire Public Library as originally planned, despite the efforts of some residents who wanted to keep it off the shelves.
In a 5-1 vote, the Library Board stood by Library Director Ramona Harten’s decision to purchase two copies of “In the Middle of the Night: The Shocking True Story of a Family Killed in Cold Blood” by Brian McDonald. The book is based largely on prison interviews and correspondence the author had with Joshua Komisarjevsky, one of the men accused of killing the Petit women. Board member Marilyn Bartoli cast the lone dissenting vote.
“This was never about censorship or book banning. People are hiding behind the first amendment because they refuse to do the decent and moral thing,” Bartoli said. “To be called a Nazi book burner is ridiculous to me. (Harten) made a deliberate decision to buy this book knowing it was hurtful to the public and the only person who has benefited from this is Ramona Harten.”
After Bartoli raised her hand to oppose the recommendation, a raucous applause broke out in the library’s Mary Baldwin Room. Library Board Chair Carol DiPietro had to bang the gavel for the applause to cease, but it was short lived, as more applause in support of Harten and the Library Board erupted after she announced, for the record, that the motion passed 5-1.
“The selection policy has been followed, “DiPietro said. “This might be difficult for some, but the policy has been followed.”
DiPietro also referenced an online petition signed by many members of the public to have the book removed from the library. With more than 1,200 signatures, DiPietro said only 18 percent were Cheshire residents. She said she has received numerous calls and e-mails, many of which were in favor of Harten’s decision. Some residents believed the issue was about censorship, and a library should not bow to public pressure.
“Censorship, for any reason, no matter how well intentioned, is always wrong, “said Marlena Soble.
“Who would be horrified by having this book in the library?” asked Martin Cobern. “No one would even know it was here without wanting to go out and look for it.”
While some residents were pleased with the outcome, others, like Kimberly Mach, were dismayed with the vote. She said that, at the very least, the library should have waited until after the two men charged with the murders — Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes — were tried in court.
“It should be left out of the library until after the trial is done. If people want to read it, they should do so after the trial,” Mach said. “(Harten) doesn’t live in town. She doesn’t know what we went through. I concede that people may want to read it, but they are not in the majority.”
Resident Sue Trumbo said the library should not have purchased the book, in an effort to “show our support” for Dr. William Petit, who was beaten but survived the July 2007 home invasion.
“The book could have been obtained by interlibrary loan, it’s as simple as that,” Trumbo said. “(Harten) should have taken this opportunity to make a statement to the town; the people who she serves.”
While a gag order has been placed on the police, attorneys, and defendants involved in the case, Town Attorney Dwight Johnson explained that the ruling did not cover the Cheshire Public Library. Johnson added that the Library Board “by charter is advisory only” and could not tell Harten what books she could or could not purchase.
Harten explained the process she followed when she decided to purchase two copies of the book.
Harten said she was first informed of the book’s release by a television reporter who called inquiring about the library’s stance on the book.
After speaking with the deputy director at the library, Harten was informed that there were already a number of requests for the book.
“Based on the materials selection policy, we determined that it met the requirements of evident popularity and relevance to Cheshire,” Harten said.
Peter Chase, with the Connecticut Library Association, said libraries make a promise that they will not censor books. He said it was important to defend books, no matter how unpopular the subject, to allow people free choice.
“We need to let people decide for themselves,” Chase said. “I am not saying that we force people to read what they don’t want, what I am saying is we need to defend people’s right to read.”
The copies of the book have been received by the library and have already been checked out to interested readers.
There are currently more than a dozen residents on a waiting list for them.