Rapides Parish Library Board hears fierce support, backlash of proposed policy amendment

Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 12:35 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2022 at 4:25 PM CST
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RAPIDES PARISH, LA (KALB) - A Rapides Parish Public Library Board of Control meeting at the Westside Regional Library in Alexandria was packed full of community members, where nearly 30 people voiced their opinions on a proposed amendment to the library’s collection development policy.

“These collections shall not include materials containing obscenity, sexual content (including content regarding sexual orientation and gender identity), or any other material that is unsuitable for the children and teen collections. Library events and displays for children and teens shall be held to the same standard.”

Proposed amendment sent from James Morgan to the Rapides Parish Library Board of Control

The amendment was authored by member James Morgan, the board appointee for District G. Morgan was appointed to the Board of Control on Sept. 6, 2022, by Rapides Parish Police Jury member Sean McGlothlin.

The amendment has been heavily criticized by the LGBTQ community, as well as their allies, who spoke against the amendment at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I can only imagine how helpful it would have been for me and my family to have books from the Rapides Parish Public Library system that defined sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Samantha Stanley, the chapter president of PFLAG in Alexandria, who spoke on her experience as a child. “Or even books that depicted LGBTQ people as people in our community. Stories that reflected my own.”

“It’s highly unlikely that Mr. Morgan seeks to ban teenage romance novels written about a boy and a girl. His target this time is people who identify as LGBTQ,” said Ann Lowrey, who works with CLASS. “What material would he propose be banned next? Books about people of color, including Latinos? Would he join in the current anti-semitism movement that’s been growing in the U.S.?”

“My existence should not be seen as sexual content for anyone under the age of 18,” said Remi Tallo. “Do you know what I was doing at 17? I was at basic training instead of being in my senior year of high school. Okay? If I can serve my country before I can read a book about a person like myself, I think we have a problem [...] It makes me furious to know there are children in this community that aren’t able to speak up for themselves. If you don’t want to read the books, don’t read them.”

“I’ve always liked the atmosphere here. It’s been welcoming, compassionate, and at times, even a safe space. However, the recent topic of change in your library’s collection development policy to exclude children’s and teen’s books in reference to sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity has left me incredibly disappointed,” said Stevie King. “Because some of your board member’s ideas that the discussion of my mere existence should not be displayed to children, that you should pick and choose which kids get representation and who doesn’t, and that your personal beliefs and political views should dictate how everyone else gets to consume media.”

At the same time, the proposed amendment elicited reactions from other members of the community who feared it would censor access to information.

“Our library collections should be crafted with fair and considerate policies that are built upon the study of library science, policies that take into account the diversities of every person in Rapides Parish,” said Ryan Howell. “And for us parents, it’s our job to help our children understand and process the information they gather on their own path to discovery.”

“While I have no reason to believe that other members of this board of control share the sentiments of Mr. Morgan, there’s undoubtedly a growing effort to censor, ban and control the books, information, and ultimately, the thoughts of our young people,” said Lowrey.

That was a sentiment not met without backlash, though, from supporters of the amendment.

“This language about banning books and burning books and censorship - that’s nonsense, and you know it all,” said William Avant. “That’s inflammatory language. The amendment doesn’t ask you to ban anything. It asks you where are you gonna put them in the library.”

“Feel free and the past and when you grow up to change whatever you want about yourself, but don’t try to shove that down our little children’s throats and think that’s okay because it’s really not,” said Mary Byrd, in support of the amendment.

The director of public policy for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, Dr. Will Hall, also spoke, saying the proposal is an apolitical issue, and that we already do not allow minors access to alcohol, tattoos and gambling due to the fact that they are impressionable, and “we want to give them every opportunity to grow up in a healthy environment without negative influences upon them.”

Michael Lunsford, the executive director of Citizens for a New Louisiana, a group at the forefront of similar movements in libraries all across the state, also commented.

“I’m proud of y’all for taking this up. And we are available, I’m available, at Citizens for a New Louisiana, to help if necessary,” said Lunsford. “You’re getting help all over. I see the room is full of great friends, that just wanna make sure the kids are taken care of.”

There were also concerns over specific materials in the children’s section of the library, which many in support of the amendment labeled as pornographic.

One attendee even showed audience members an outtake from a book called “This Book is Gay,” which he said he found in the children’s section of the library. He explained how the book details how “boys, not man on man, but boy on boy, can sodomize one another.”

That claim was met with support from one member of the LGBTQ community, who said “If there’s pornographic pictures in it, I will side with you, and I will be glad to pull those from children’s areas. But my kids, which I have kids too, they should be able to see our family seen in the library.”

However, many concerns were met with additional questions, which attendees, including members of the media, were not allowed to ask the board during the meeting.

“Where does it stop?” asked Suelynne Mickey.

“I just don’t get it. I’m totally lost here. I’m 57 years old, and it’s like we’re going backward instead of forward,” said Anthony Eli. “Is that the purpose here? I just want to know. Can anybody answer? Can the board answer? Is that the purpose here, to go backward? Cause that’s what it seems like we’re trying to do.”

Morgan did not provide any answers to questions during the public commentary time, referring to the fact that he had not yet presented the amendment.

During that presentation following public comment, Morgan detailed that his proposed amendment “does not ban any books from our library whatsoever” and that his amendment is in line with existing collection policy, which details that the library will not act in place of the parent in choosing books for selections.

“The selection of library books and materials is predicated on the library customers’ right to read, and similarly, their freedom from censorship by others. Many titles are controversial, and any given item may offend some persons. Selections for this Library will not, however, be made on the basis of anticipated approval or disapproval, but solely on the merits of the material in relation to the building of the collection and to serving the interests of the reader.

This library holds censorship to be a purely individual matter and declares that - while all are free to reject for themselves books and other materials of which they do not approve - they cannot exercise this right of censorship to restrict the freedom of others.

With respect to the use of the library materials by children, the decision as to what minors may read, view or listen to is the responsibility of their parents or guardians. The Library staff will not serve in loco parentis. Parental opinions on what is acceptable reading for children vary widely. Selection will not be inhibited by the possibility that books may come into the possession of minors.”

Rapides Parish Library Collection Development Policy - Requests for Reconsideration

Morgan repeatedly refused to answer questions from both the public and News Channel 5, even after the Director of Rapides Parish Public Libraries, Celise Reech-Harper, said board members would be available for an interview after the meeting concluded.

However, directly after the meeting adjourned, Morgan was ushered out of the building by several individuals who accompanied him to his vehicle, as News Channel 5 attempted to ask him questions. He declined to answer any questions, got in his truck and drove away.

News Channel 5 has previously attempted to ask Morgan for clarification and context on his proposed amendment ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. In a phone call on Friday, Dec. 9, Morgan refused to provide additional information ahead of the board meeting.

Morgan is a member of a public board, appointed by an elected member of a public board (Sean McGlothlin on the Rapides Parish Police Jury) to represent the corresponding district (District G).

The amendment will be voted on at the January meeting, per protocol for the mandatory minimum of two-weeks notice of a proposal.

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