Monday, June 24, 2024

Lincoln Parish library board forms team to fight state proposals

by BIZ Magazine

By Piper Hutchinson and April Christ, Louisiana Illuminator

RUSTON – One local library board is preparing to fight back against upcoming proposals in the Louisiana Legislature to give local elected officials more oversight over libraries content amid a statewide fight over publicly accessible content. 

The Lincoln Parish Library Board of Control voted Thursday to form a committee to combat two bills prefiled for the upcoming legislative session that would dramatically alter how the state’s public library systems operate. 

Board member Bill Jones, a former Democratic state senator, asked the board to call the special meeting to create a strategy to fight House Bill 25, introduced by Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, and Senate Bill 7, introduced by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek.

Hollis’ bill would limit the power of local library boards by giving parish governments the ability to remove board members at will. 

“This bill calls to mind Lord Acton’s statement made over a hundred years ago: ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,’” Jones wrote in a memo to his fellow library board members. 

“There is no good reason to eliminate the current management structure of the Library and replace it with the unfettered power of the Police Jury – which has no experience, training or education in running a Library,” Jones added. 

The board decided to oppose Hollis’ bill in its current form but proposed an amendment that would allow them to support it. The change would give parish governments more oversight over library boards but would only allow board members to be removed for just cause before their term is up. The proposal would also give members the right to respond to allegations and appeal their removal in court. 

In an interview with the Illuminator, Hollis said he would not support the amendment. 

“I don’t like the idea of an unelected board being able to have an allocation of that significant amount of money without any kind of real-time accountability,” Hollis said. 

Hollis added that he would be open to the amendment if adding it is the only way to pass his bill. 

Cloud’s bill seeks to restrict minors from accessing materials some consider to be sexually explicit. It would require libraries to set up a system that would allow parents to choose a library card that would restrict minors’ ability to check out certain materials. The bill also sets new standards for review of challenged materials, giving the ultimate say to library boards. 

In most parish libraries, a committee of librarians and library employees determine which books are removed from the shelves. Cloud’s bill also sets out financial penalties for libraries that don’t comply

Jones took issue with the bill trying to limit “sexually explicit” material. He said that under the definitions laid out in the bill, Shakespeare’s works, the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, and books on sex education would all be considered sexually explicit. 

Instead, Jones proposed changing the guideline from “sexually explicit” to “age appropriate.” The proposal would also remove language from Cloud’s bill that would allow for financial penalties for non-compliant libraries. 

Cloud did not respond to a request for comment. 

The board unanimously endorsed Jones’ proposals on both bills and voted to create a committee to work in opposition of the bills unless they are amended. 

The Lincoln Parish library board is the first to organize a defensive campaign against the legislation. Some boards, such as the one overseeing Lafayette Parish libraries, have proactively adopted some of the legislation’s provisions. Others – the St. Tammany Parish library, for example – have attempted to find middle ground with conservative activists calling for sweeping changes to library practices. 

The committee will be made up of library board chair Amy Miller, vice chair Jan Canterbury, library director Jeremy Bolom and Jones. Other board members have also been invited to join, but none indicated at the meeting whether they would. 

The committee’s stated mission is to communicate and work with the public, the Louisiana Library Association, other public libraries and members of the legislature to oppose the Cloud and Hollis bills unless amended to reflect their changes, which can be read in their entirety below. 

The board’s next meeting has not yet been announced.

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