Open letter to the Urbana Free Library

I learned recently of a terrible tragedy at the Urbana Free Library, which was one of the formative institutions of my childhood. The Executive Director, Debra Lissak, authorized the removal of all books from the Adult Collection which were published after 2003. That was a mere 10 years ago. The collection of short stories by Hasan Saadat Manto, one of the most important chroniclers of partition, would have been summarily tossed. Why? Because the library didn’t own a newer edition of his work. Such decisions make me wonder if Lissak even reads books, or understands the function of a public library. I don’t think one needs a library science degree to understand that a terrible travesty has occurred here. I wrote a letter to Lissak, and if you read this and care about the UFL, I encourage you to do so as well.

I’ve also started a petition via here.

The Library’s “official response” is here, and Lissak has been blaming “communication problems,” effectively blaming her staff when she should take responsibility for these acts. Her actions undermine the viability of the library and credibility of its leadership. It’s hard to be a Friend of a library whose administration is so deaf to the community it serves.

You can contact Debra Lissak, Executive Director, at 217-367-4058 or at Because she is apparently disregarding the opinions of others, you may want to CC the administration of the library:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

My letter to Lissak is below.
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In Memoriam Dorothy Vickers-Shelley

I learned today that my grade school librarian, Dorothy Vickers-Shelley, passed away last week. It’s difficult for me to explain how much she affected my life and the lives of all the children she taught. She struck fear into our little hearts by threatening to hang us up by our toe-nails or skewer us with her purple-pointed stick if we were naughty, and thrilled us by reading us stories and personally picking out books she thought we would enjoy. She gave me a job when I was in middle school and I spent part of a glorious summer working in the library. She was the library at Yankee Ridge. But the most important thing she taught us is encapsulated in the creed she wrote that we would recite every time we went to the library:

Life is short. Therefore I shall be a crusader in the fight against ignorance and fear, beginning with myself.

Goodbye, Ms. Vickers-Shelley. You will always have a place in my heart.