Few and far between: RPL received 4 formal book complaints in 8 years

Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 8:31 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2023 at 1:55 PM CST
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RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Rapides Parish Library Board of Control will vote on an amendment to the library’s collection development policy, which is designed to give guidelines and principles for materials available to the public.

The amendment was proposed 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.

“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

When the amendment was introduced at December’s board meeting, dozens of people who were both for and against the measure showed up to voice their opinions. Some claimed they were fighting against sexually explicit content in the children and teen sections.

“It is not about censorship. It is about pornography,” said one attendee in support.

That 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.”

Others, however, questioned what exactly the policy would do, saying the current policy is sufficient and claiming the amendment is too broad.

“If we’re trying to completely reduce sexual orientation, then you’re going to have to pull out any book that has any relationship,” said one attendee in opposition.

Morgan himself has not answered questions about his proposed change, despite multiple attempts from KALB to ask follow-up questions from the board meeting, including prior to the meeting when News Channel 5 previously attempted to ask Morgan for clarification and context on his proposed amendment. Then, after the December meeting concluded, 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 since attempted to set up an interview with Morgan on two other occasions. He did not respond to the first request. On the second request, he sent a copy of his written remarks from the meeting.

Amid accusations of censorship and attempts to ban books directed at the proposal, Morgan responded that the amendment was about categorization.

“These matters are complex with a wide variety of beliefs across our community. Parents are responsible for when and how their children are introduced to it. However, we make that difficult for parents if we display books about sex in the kids’ room next to ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ and ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.’”

James Morgan

News Channel 5 requested RPL records on complaints and requests for removal, reconsideration or contest of books in the children and teen collections since 2015, including but not limited to those including LGBTQ+ and/or sexual themes.

In all but one case, the previous library director, Laura-Ellen Ayres, responded with the library’s position that it attempts “to collect all sides of issues,” “make all viewpoints available to all” and does not in place of the parent “who is the arbiter of what their children read.” The response ended with recommendations of several books that might have better suited the complainant’s views.

The only case complained of regarding pornographic material was in 2015 involving a graphic novel in the teen section. The novel was reviewed, and the board made the decision to remove the first few graphic pages and relocate it to the adult fiction section. That book, “Is it Wrong to Pick up Girls in a Dungeon,” consists of heterosexual relationships with “very graphic, titillating drawings.”

The most recent complaint was in April of 2022, but it was an informal complaint.

The book at the center of the complaint was “Pride Puppy,” an alphabet book about a family searching for their missing dog at a pride parade, while members of the LGBTQ+ community help in the search along the way.

While the identity of the person who complained was censored in the records, as are the identities of all complainants, the minutes from the board meeting relevant to the request were not. The only member of the public to speak at that board meeting was Morgan, before he was appointed to the board.

According to the minutes of the May meeting, Morgan “requested sections of the [collection development] policy be revised to remove restrictions against hate speech in the collection and remove the statement ensuring access to materials for children.”

He was asked to submit his request formally for both “Pride Puppy” and the revision to the collection development policy in May. He never submitted his complaint formally, however.

Four months later, Morgan was appointed to the board. Three months after that, Morgan introduced his proposal to the board.

Morgan himself has said, “Placing books in a different area of the library does not prevent minors from reading, viewing, or listening to them. It does not remove the responsibility of the parents or guardians. It does not inhibit the selection of library materials.”

Pride Puppy remains in circulation at the RPL, categorized as a children’s book.

News Channel 5 received five complaints total in a records request, of which four regarded sexual content or LGBTQ+ themes.

Two groups have developed petitions regarding the amendment. The Rapides Parish FREADom Fighters, who stand in opposition to the measure, have received 1,035 signatures on an online petition. Meanwhile, a petition in support of the amendment was published on Conservative Change, an online conservative petition website. It has received 71 signatures.

The proposed amendment is set to receive a vote Tuesday, January 17 at the next RPL Board of Control Meeting at Westside Regional Library at 3:30 p.m.

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