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Book Daniels slammed as liberal 'propaganda' a hot read at libraries

August 13, 2013|MARGARET FOSMOE, South Bend Tribune | Additional information from WSBT-TV

If your summer reading list includes historian Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and you’re planning to borrow it from the public library, get in line.

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels’ alleged efforts to keep Zinn and his 1980 volume out of Indiana college classrooms has prompted a surge of interest in the book, and local libraries are purchasing additional copies to keep up with public demand.

The book emphasizes violence against Native Americans and class inequality -- presenting American history through the eyes of the common people rather than economic and political elites.

Zinn said the work attempts to tell the stories of people who are not often represented in traditional history books.

A few weeks ago, the St. Joseph County Public Library had one copy of Zinn’s book.

Based on demand, the county library purchased 19 additional print copies and four electronic copies. As of Monday, all those copies were checked out or on reserve, with 10 patrons on the waiting list.

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“Every Monday morning, we do an assessment of the collection to see if we need to order additional copies or if we’ve missed anything,” said Rona Plummer, acquisitions and collection development manager.

The library also compiles a weekly list of “high demand holds” among area libraries, books that are checked out and have a number of patrons waiting for their return. “Anything that has at least three holds we check to see if we enough copies to meet demand,” Plummer said.

For high-demand items, the library can place a rush order and usually get additional copies within a few days.

Like most people, Plummer believes the sudden public interest in Zinn’s book was prompted by news coverage about Daniels’ e-mails while governor seeking to discourage reading and use of the book.

The Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Township Public Library owns one copy of Zinn’s book, which is checked out and has two holds.

The Mishawaka library has three new copies on order, which hadn’t yet arrived Monday, based on recent patron demand.

Anytime the library receives approximately five requests from patrons for a book that isn’t available, another copy is ordered, Mishawaka Library Director David Eisen said. In this case, demand justified ordering three new copies.

“I think the interest is because of Daniels questioning the book. People have been showing an interest,” Eisen said.

It’s not common for the public to suddenly show an interest in checking out an older book, unless it’s a book that’s recently been made into a film or otherwise brought to public attention, he said.

Zinn’s book became a hot topic in July, when the Associated Press reported that Daniels took steps during his second term as Indiana’s governor to eliminate what he considered liberal breeding grounds at Indiana’s public universities, requesting that Zinn’s writings be banned from classrooms and asking for a “cleanup” of college courses he called “propaganda.”

The report was based on e-mails between Daniels and his staff obtained through a public records request. In the e-mails, Daniels referred to Zinn as a “terrible anti-American academic” and criticized his work as “a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page.”

“Can someone assure me that is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?” the then-governor wrote to his staff.

After the e-mails became public, Daniels said the actions he took as governor were meant to keep the book out of the hands of K-12 students, not universities.

Daniels has been blasted in academic circles for what is being perceived as an attack on academic freedom.

At Indiana University South Bend, the last time Zinn’s book was required reading for a course was in 2010, according to campus spokeswoman Kathy Borlik. It’s not on the reading list for any courses for fall 2013, she said.

About 15 copies of the book are available through Indiana University’s statewide library system. Of those, nearly all currently are checked out, except two marked as “lost.”

The Purdue University library’s online catalog shows two copies of Zinn’s book in the West Lafayette library collection. Both are checked out.

Zinn, an activist historian, died in 2010 at age 87. His “People’s History of the United States” recounted untold or neglected stories of the country’s past, becoming a best-seller in the 1980s. First published with a print run of just 5,000 copies, the book sold more than 2 million copies, including condensations and versions aimed at teens.

Some people criticize the book for its lack of footnotes citing specific sources and pages. In the introduction to the book’s bibliography, Zinn wrote: “To indicate every source of information in the text would have meant a book impossibly cluttered with footnotes, and yet I know the curiosity of the reader about where a startling fact or pungent quote comes from. Therefore, as often as I can, I mention in the text authors and titles of books for which the full information is in this bibliography. Where you cannot tell the source of a quotation right from the text, you can probably figure it out by looking at the asterisked books for that chapter.”

Contact Margaret Fosmoe: 574-277-6910

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