Millions of viewers nationwide saw the rumpled, rebellious Moore sporting the red baseball-style cap during spots last month on The Jay Leno Show, Larry King Live, and The Colbert Report as he promoted his new movie, Capitalism: a Love Story which opened in theaters October 2.
Moore is certainly no stranger to Rutgers. He visited the Camden Campus in 2004 when students gave him a Rutgers cap. He expressed his affinity with the school during his "Slacker Uprising Tour," an effort to mobilize young voters. Moore compared the campus to the University of Michigan-Flint, where he had attended classes.
But Moore's connection to Rutgers runs deeper than his appearance five years ago. For him, the Rutgers cap may also serve as a quiet symbol of free speech. He has previously worn the cap to honor Ann Sparanese, a little-known librarian and Rutgers graduate who stood up for Moore during the difficult months after the 9/11 attacks.
Sparanese, in an interview this week, said she took action after learning that Moore’s publisher, HarperCollins, was balking at releasing his book, Stupid White Men and Other Excuses for the State of the Nation. The publisher reportedly feared that the book would be criticized as unpatriotic in the aftermath of the attacks.
So Sparanese, who earned her masters in library science from the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (now SC&I) at Rutgers in 1989, posted a message on a listserv for librarians.
“I didn’t suggest any specific action,” she said. “I just wrote about four paragraphs. My main point was that if they are going to do this to Michael Moore, who is so well known, imagine how many other writers and books would go unpublished.”
To this day, Sparanese said she has no idea how many librarians contacted HarperCollins to express their dismay. But Moore has said it was enough to persuade the publisher to relent.
“I didn’t realize anybody had done anything until one day I got a call from a reporter with Salon.com telling me the book was being published,” she said.She later met Moore at a book-signing event in Bergen County, and he expressed his gratitude to her. She later introduced him during an appearance at the American Library Association. He also sent her a bouquet of flowers.
Sparanese is a librarian at the Englewood Public Library in Bergen County, where she serves as head of adult and young adult services. She praises her professors at Rutgers for inspiring her to pursue library science. She said she was nearly 40 when she entered the program.
“I had inspirational teachers and it’s no doubt they made me really love this field,” she said.
She has won grants to expand her library’s collections of Hispanic and African American studies and jazz, blues and world music.
In 2003, she won the American Library Association Elizabeth Futas Catalyst for Change Award, which honors a librarian who invests time and talent to make positive changes in the profession of librarianship.
The Michael Moore incident wasn’t the only time that Sparanese, a self-described community activist, has taken on powerful forces in the defense of freedom of expression.
She recently alerted her fellow librarians that one of the most formidable law enforcement officials in the nation – U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald – was threatening to sue HarperCollins over a book that examines how law enforcement officials, including Fitzgerald, prosecuted terrorists before 9/11.
Fitzgerald, acting as a private citizen, has said the book, Triple Cross, by Peter Lance, contains inaccuracies and defames him. He has written the publisher several times, asking them to withdraw the book and to cancel publication of the paperback version, according to published reports.
“I felt this was just another egregious attempt to stifle criticism,” Sparanese said “If Fitzgerald wants to rebut it, that’s his right, but it’s not his right to say it can’t come out.”