She sits quietly behind the unpretentious desk, leans back in her chair and gazes into the distance as she ponders the question.
"I don't know that I've changed consciously at all," she answers in a subdued voice, "but I'm sure there have been some subconscious effects that I don't see."That is Jeanne Layton's assessment of the impact of her September 1979 confrontation with Davis County elected officials over her refusal to remove a controversial book from library shelves. The action led to her firing as the county's head librarian and her subsequent reinstatement under court order to the post she still holds.
The incident brought tiny Davis County into the national spotlight during an era when banning books, or at least news accounts of such, was not nearly as prevalent as today. Also, the book in question, "Americana" by Don DeLillo, was an obscure work and one that likely had little impact on the public in general. After all, it had been checked out of the Davis library only twice in three years.
"There were two years (after the reinstatement) that
ere very difficult," Layton recalls. "There was no assurance that it would ever get any better, but it did."
For Layton, being head librarian for the Davis system was her life. "It was a situation that previously I had always enjoyed - it was a job that I liked a lot, a very lot.
"I didn't want to leave. Davis County is my home and I like it here. I would have been leaving my family and friends, life would have been very different," Layton reflected.
While it was something she didn't want to happen, it was a situation that she knew was a real possibility. For four months she was suspended from her position while she awaited a hearing before the county's Merit Commission. It was a time of reflection and it was also a time that she knew she had to realistically look at her options.
"During that time I knew there was no assurance that I would be back. I had to look at my options. I considered returning to school. I certainly was not ready to quit working . . . I'm not ready for that even now," Layton said.
After reviewing her options Layton decided she would fight. Two things guided her decision: a hope that the library situation would improve and her inner knowledge that she knew she didn't want to leave.
"I'm not an impulsive person and I took my time," Layton said. "There was a lot of support given to me and I found that I was not in a hostile environment. People I didn't even know were rallying to my support and the issue of what should be in a library became very important to me."
In deciding to fight for her job, Layton found herself in a precarious position. Her case was the first ever to go to the county's Merit Commission and there was a delay in getting the hearing process started because the three-member body had to go through the process of organizing itself and learning what its powers were.
"I knew they had not met before and that this was a `baptism by fire' for them," Layton recalled. "But I always felt that I would get a fair hearing; I never doubted that."
In challenging the action, Layton knew she faced a risk. Not only was there the real possibility that she could lose the appeal and her job, there was the cost that she would face. In round numbers, the final figure would reach $63,000. "I was lucky that I could do this without hurting anyone else. I didn't have children so it wasn't a case of whether they would be hurt. Also, I was in a position that I could meet the (financial) challenge."
Layton noted that it was one of those situations where things sound wonderful if you win, but she realized, "everyone doesn't win."
But Layton did win her case and she was ordered reinstated to her post. During the proceedings she filed a $300,000 federal suit against the county. That case never went to trial and Layton, in an effort to ease the controversy, settled out of court for $50,000. The settlement barely covered her out-of-pocket costs. She would later return much of the donated money that was contributed for her legal expenses. "I didn't get any damages of any sort. That was just fine. I think it was a time to do that."
But winning did not solve all the problems. There was still the fact that she would have to continue working with those who had sought her dismissal. It would be a difficult period of readjustment.
"I think though that I became more aware of my sense of values, and I also think it made me tougher," Layton said. Layton had to become tougher because it was a period of stress, one which could inflict substantial emotional loss because of the controversy. She believes that because the incident focused on one specific event and because side issues did not emerge, it was less difficult to meet the challenge.
The 1980 elections brought two new county commissioners to office, a change that Layton said proved to be a blessing in healing the situation. "I think the election and the fact that there was a new commissioner on the Library Board was a positive experience. He wanted to put the controversy behind and move on and I think that was the best thing that could have occurred."
Layton is visibly uncomfortable as she discusses the event that brought her notoriety. She said it is something she would just as soon see fade from public memory. Time has taught her, however, that the event is not to be forgotten and she still finds herself called upon to recount and discuss the controversy. "I guess I've learned to articulate what I feel and what is in my heart. I'm always expected to say something meaningful. It's an experience I disliked then and one I dislike to this day."
She has learned to cope with the fame that goes with being in the public eye. In recent months she has had two experiences to remind her of the confrontation. "I was at an auto parts store in Layton and when the man saw my name on the check he called out to the others, `Hey, this is the lady that fought city hall and won!' " she said. The other instance occurred at a Box Elder County restaurant where she had stopped on her way back from a meeting. "I was sitting at the counter next to another older lady and we began talking. Her husband works at Utah State University. When we introduced ourselves she immediately recognized my name and knew all about what had happened."
Layton said she would much rather talk about the success the county library system has been enjoying in recent years with the opening of a new branch in Layton and the automation of the system using computers. She said these are the things that are important now and she tries to keep a low profile.
And what is in the future?
"Early retirement if I can ever get myself organized," Layton laughs. Her first desire is to travel but she recognizes that since one can't travel constantly she needs to have other things ready to keep herself busy.
"I think everyone should work at something. I think when you don't have something to do, that is when the effects of aging set in," Layton said. Layton said she wants to see the world while her health is still good. "I've seen enough to whet my appetite. When something intrigues me I want to see it, not just read about it."
And, perhaps, she just might find that little corner of the world where she can be Jeanne Layton, world traveler, and not Jeanne Layton, "the lady who fought city hall and won."