EJ Hersom/Staff photographer Thousands of bookmarks promoting an anti-public school stance and websites make a tall stack in the Dover Public Library, where the bookmarks were inserted into thousands of books without the staff's knowledge
Monday, July 12, 2010
DOVER — Local libraries were recently the subject of a deliberate and calculating attack — of the bookmark variety.
Volunteers and staff at the Dover Public Library spent 30 hours in May collecting more than 5,000 bookmarks secretly placed inside books at the library sometime before May.
The bookmarks contained information about the beliefs of two organizations, the School Sucks Project and Freedomain Radio.
The School Sucks Project is focused on a call to end publicly funded education because of what the group calls an attempt to stifle creativity and a valuing of order and obedience over all else in the school system, according to the group's website.
Freedomain Radio describes itself as a philosophical radio show with topics including politics, economics, science, philosophy, relationships and atheism, according to its website.
The discovery of the bookmarks at the Dover library was accidental.
"What happened was a shelf fell out in our stacks and all the books fell on the floor," Library Director Cathy Beaudoin said. "When they all splayed open, a little blue bookmark fell out of each one."
It's not that it's unusual for people to leave things in books, Beaudoin said, but it was immediately clear that this incident was more than a case of forgetfulness.
"People leave stuff in books a lot, but these were all identical and in every one," she said.
So staff members decided to check the shelf below, and then the shelf above, and realized all the books contained one of the blue bookmarks.
Then the search left the science-fiction section, where the original Freedomain Radio bookmarks were found. Soon staff members had found bookmarks in other nonfiction areas — philosophy, politics, sociology, history.
And in the teen section was where staff found the School Sucks Project bookmarks, with more cropping up on SAT and college preparatory books.
"I think they were very careful in what areas they chose to do it," Beaudoin said, pointing out that the books that were targeted related to the groups' message.
It's not the first time somebody has tried to use library books to advertise a message, but it is the first time locally it was to this scale, Beaudoin said.
"This is the first time we had this kind of inundation of a deliberate attempt to put propaganda in books," Beaudoin said.
Similar bookmarks were also found in libraries in Portsmouth and at the University of New Hampshire.
Although Beaudoin said she didn't want library patrons to think the library supported the messages on the bookmarks, she wouldn't have denied a request to post a poster or literature on a public board or display.
But library policy prohibits the dissemination of information through bookmarks in books, she said.
"If I had found 5,000 bookmarks staying 'Stop the oil spill in the Gulf,' a message I think everyone can get behind, I still would have pulled them," she said. "It's not what it was about, but that the act was done."
She said she did try to send a copy of the library's policy to the group, but the e-mail came back as undeliverable.
Attempts to reach a representative of the School Sucks Project were unsuccessful.