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In the small New England town of Kenport, widow Alicia Hull celebrates her twenty-fifth year as the town librarian with her assistant Martha Lockridge and good friend Judge Robert Ellerbe. Across town, George and Laura Slater quarrel over their ten-year old son Freddie's preoccupation with the stories he reads in books. When blue collar worker George insists that Freddie should spend more time involved in outdoor sports and Laura challenges him, the couple accidentally tear one of Freddie's library books in half. Freddie later takes the book to Alicia, who assures him that she can mend it, and encourages him to continue reading. That evening, George visits Alicia to pay for damaging the book, but admits he would rather Freddie play baseball than read. Alicia suggests that George allow Freddie to be himself. At the request of city council head Paul Duncan, Robert invites Alicia to the council's monthly luncheon. Alicia arrives at the lunch with the blueprints for the proposed children's wing addition to the library and is surprised when Mayor Levering and the other council members rapidly and unanimously approve the wing without debate. Then Paul informs Alicia that the council is concerned about a book in the library entitled The Communist Dream , and Levering adds that complaints have been filed about it. Alicia is taken aback when Paul and a few other council members advise her to remove the book from the library shelves. While Alicia agrees that the book could be viewed as political propaganda, she nevertheless recommends that the public be allowed access to it. When the council members insist, however, Alicia, who knows the library needs the new wing, reluctantly agrees to remove the book. That evening, Paul and Martha go out together, but Martha evades Paul's marriage proposal. Meanwhile, in the library, Alicia realizes that she cannot remove the book and replaces it back on the shelf. A little while later at the restaurant, a council member stops by Paul's table to inform him and Martha that Alicia has telephoned Levering and refused to remove the book from the library. The following day, Alicia meets with the council again and decries their attempt to bribe her with the children's wing and insists that she cannot remove a book simply because it contains unpopular ideas. Several council members explain that the complaints have come from many of their constituents and that the Women's Committee Against Subversion has threatened to take the issue to the local newspaper. Alicia responds that the library carried Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf all during the pre-war years with no adverse effects and challenges the council. Paul points out that Alicia once belonged to several organizations that were later discovered to be Communist fronts. Alicia insists that she quit each association upon learning of their politics, then angrily objects to Paul's implication that her affiliation with those groups suggests Communist sympathies. When Paul replies that Communism spreads by preying on those easily fooled, Alicia alarms Robert by announcing her intention to quit the library if the council insists on the book's removal. Robert pleads with Alicia to reconsider, but she refuses and departs. Paul demands that the council fire Alicia, and despite the reluctance of three members, including Robert, they agree. The next day, Freddie reads the newspaper headlines about Alicia's firing and, distressed, visits her to learn why. Alicia is unable to clearly explain the situation, leaving Freddie upset. That evening, a sparse crowd of townspeople turn out for a meeting to support Alicia. In spite of the group's concern over Alicia's firing, however, most remain afraid to publicly support her for fear of losing their jobs. Alicia defuses the tension by thanking those attending, but declaring that she has no wish to cause any of them difficulty. At the Slaters' house, Freddie asks Laura to explain what it means to be a Communist, when George arrives home and expresses surprise that Laura is not packing for their planned vacation. Laura feels that because of Freddie's distress over Alicia's firing, they should postpone their trip, which angers George. Freddie overhears George berating Alicia for her intellectual biases and Laura repeats the newspaper's declaration of Alicia's harmful influence and sadly expresses her own disappointment in the librarian. A few days later, Alicia dines at a local café and notices hostility from several patrons. When Freddie walks by with some friends, Alicia goes outside to speak with him and is surprised when the boy ignores her. The boys with Freddie tease him about his friendship with the librarian, but when Freddie fabricates fantastic accusations against Alicia inspired by the stories he has read, they scoff and kick him out of their group. That night before closing the library, Martha is startled when she discovers Freddie destroying several books among the stacks, but he runs away. Martha seeks advice from Alicia, but she remains puzzled by the boy's behavior. That night at a country club party, Paul disturbs Martha when he reveals his plans to run for state legislature on the "Red menace" issue. Several women discuss their belief that Alicia held questionable influence over the towns children, but Hazel, the daughter of one council member, insists that Alicia was one of the best influences she had while growing up. That night Freddie has a nightmare and George takes him for a walk, ending with his declaration that Alicia has poisoned the library for years. Several weeks later, when Alicia is not at the new children's wing ground-breaking ceremony, Robert visits her and finds her packing to move to California. Robert insists that Alicia attend the ceremony, and they arrive just as Freddie finishes reading out the titles of the ten best books he has chosen. Despite unease in the crowd, Robert asks Alicia to officially break the new library ground, but when she asks Freddie to help her, the boy breaks down, repeatedly screaming that Alicia is a Communist, until she slaps him and he runs away. That evening, the Slaters worry about the missing Freddie, and Martha is angry over Paul's continued ambitions, which she feels have destroyed Alicia. At a council meeting, Robert insists Alicia receive an apology and reinstatement and accuses the group of behaving suspicious and distrustful, like Communists. Meanwhile, Freddie has hidden in the library and sets several books on fire in the stacks. In his haste to leave, Freddie falls and is knocked out as fire engulfs the building. As a crowd gathers outside and the town's firemen arrive, Martha disputes Paul's earlier allegation that he has done nothing to cause serious damage and breaks up with him. Laura frantically searches for Freddie, who is finally rescued by the firemen. Alicia joins the crowd to sadly watch the library's destruction. Reverend Wilson apologizes to Alicia and she admits that she should have fought the council harder. When several townspeople plead with Alicia to stay and help them rebuild their library, she agrees.