On May 15, one week before a major exhibition of work once owned by brothers and rival art collectors Sterling and Stephen Clark opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Helen Garfield, a buyer for the Met's bookstore, sent an e-mail to the store's manager, Kathryn Wiebusch, that read: “Just an FYI in case anybody asks, as it may seem odd that we do not have it.... Random House just released a new book called the Clarks of Cooperstown. We are not going to carry it.... it isn't very well written, especially compared to the curatorial essays in our catalogue. People may ask (and the author may wander in asking about it). Maybe the staff can get a quick briefing from you so they have a heads-up too?”

Half an hour later, Wiebusch sent a message to bookstore staff telling them: “If anyone asks about the new book Clarks of Cooperstown, just feign ignorance. We need to sell our catalogue.”

The Met is now selling TheClarks of Cooperstown by Nicholas Fox Weber, a biography of the Clark family, and a spokesman for the museum said—the e-mails notwithstanding—there was never any plan to exclude it. But a 10-day delay between the exhibition's opening and the store stocking the title, as well as contradictory statements attributed to members of the museum staff, have raised questions about the Met's policies. Some members of the publishing community—including an author who quit his job at the museum over the issue last week—are wondering if Met employees are practicing a form of ad hoc censorship in which titles are banned or pulled from the bookstore's shelves based on controversial content.

“The larger issue is, what have they done with other books; what will they do with future books?” said Vicky Wilson, Weber's editor at Knopf. Weber's book, though hardly a hatchet job, does portray Alfred Clark (Stephen and Sterling's father) as having a double homosexual life, and makes reference to Sterling Clark's involvement in a plot to overthrow FDR.

Museum spokesperson Harold Holzer said decisions about which books to stock are made by “a process of selection, not of censorship.”

The book did appear in the store June 1, the day the New York Times ran a piece about Weber's complaints that the book wasn't being sold there. Some contend the Met scrambled to carry the book after its omission became public. Holzer said the museum simply didn't order the book in time for the exhibition's opening.

Both sides agree that the book is a natural for the Met. It was rushed out to coincide with the opening of the exhibition, and Wilson said museum personnel sent e-mails to Knopf months ago promising to aggressively sell the book in its stores. Wilson said she was “mystified and stunned” to hear from Weber, after the exhibition opened, that it wasn't there. Weber found out from a clerk, who told him the Met wouldn't be stocking it.

“As a writer, you write a book hoping that it will be read by the widest audience,” Weber said. “From the time I started that book, I pictured it being sold at the exhibition.”

Coincidently, another one of Wilson's authors, Jim Grissom, was working at the Met bookstore until he resigned June 1. He said he was given several reasons why the museum was not carrying Weber's book—that it had factual errors; that there was a problem with its tone; and, finally, that someone at the museum didn't like the references to Alfred Clark's double life.

Grissom admits it's hard to imagine such squeamishness about homosexuality beating in the heart of the New York art world, but he said he witnessed such attitudes within the retail department there before.

As for Weber's book, it has the endorsement of the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, which cooperated with him, giving him rare access to diaries and other material, and weighed in on the manuscript as it was being written. “We trusted Nick, and still do, to handle the material sensitively,” said Michael Conforti, the institute's director. The Institute does sell it.

Whatever the Met's reason for initially not carrying Clarks, Grissom said, “I think it would have disappointed me if they said, 'we just don't want to carry it.' But when you start impugning the writer, you cross the line.”