Jeanne Layton: Librarian who fought Davis County censorship dies at 77
She stood up against censorship in the face of blistering criticism and even lost her job rather than turn her back on the First Amendment.
Jeanne Layton, who died Saturday at age 77, was the little Davis County librarian who, when it came to fighting for her principles, proved to be a heavyweight.
Layton set Utah abuzz and grabbed national headlines in 1979 when she was fired for refusing to pull the titillating novel Americana from the shelves of the Davis County Library.
She fought the dismissal and eventually won back her job.
The Davis County Commission labeled the book by Don DeLillo ''obscene.'' But Layton argued that library patrons had a right to choose what they read.
''It's not the library's role to determine choices for adults,'' she told The Salt Lake Tribune in 1990 as she prepared to retire after 30 years. ''It's important for the library to serve everyone in the community, not just select groups.''
Pressure built between Layton and then-County Commissioner Morris F. Swapp in the summer of 1979 after the librarian brushed aside his demands that Americana be banished. The county's Library Board, which included Swapp, asked for her resignation. She refused.
The commission then voted to change the library director's employee status from ''merit'' to ''exempt,'' meaning she could be dismissed without cause.
In September, the Library Board demanded Americana be removed. Layton again said no and was summarily sacked.
She vowed to fight her firing, saying the decision was bad for the library system and for Davis County.
All the while, DeLillo's first novel remained on the shelves.
On Tuesday, Layton's nephew, Craig Layton, recalled that the showdown was difficult for his aunt and took a personal toll.
''Jeanne was a very small person in stature,'' he said. ''But she was one of the strongest people I know, willing to stand up for what's right and our civil rights in this country.''
Although outwardly the librarian looked unflappable, the battle with county officials was ''excruciating,'' Craig Layton said. ''But she found a way to forgive those who caused a whole lot of grief in her life.''
Jeanne Layton sued in federal court to get her job back and, in December 1979, U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Jenkins ordered that the Davis County Merit Council hear her case.
During a high-profile hearing before that council in January 1980, Swapp testified Layton was insubordinate. Nonetheless, the panel unanimously found she was fired without sufficient cause. Layton returned to work Jan. 15, 1980.
The Library Board, apparently unhappy with the outcome, denied Layton a merit raise in August 1981. Then-Chairman Evan Whiteside said at the time that the board found her performance lacking in ''policy application'' and ''book selection.''
Several days after the decision became public, however, the board reversed itself and gave her the raise.
Davis County's current library boss, Pete Giacoma, was hired by Layton about that time and recalls her as a ''dedicated and masterful librarian.''
''She wanted people in Davis County to have every opportunity to read and explore the world through books,'' he said. ''And it's important to know that the people of Davis County supported her.''
Layton was recognized for her courage and received a number of awards, including the Intellectual Freedom Award from the Mountain Plains Library Association.
''What she believed in were clear principles,'' Giacoma said. ''And, for those, she stood up.''
Jeanne Layton's funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Lindquist's Kaysville Mortuary, 400 N. Main St. Friends and family may call Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday from 9:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
Don DeLillo's first novel, Americana, published in 1971, focuses on David Bell, a 28-year-old who has fought his way up the corporate ladder to become a top television executive.
But his world - the fantasies that enthrall the American imagination on the TV screen - turns into a nightmare.
Disenfranchised, Bell sets out with a camera to rediscover reality on a cross-country journey of America. It's a mad, moving attempt to capture his own and his country's past, present and future.