Standing Strong in St. Tammany Parish
Thanks to a dedicated group of anti-censorship champions known as the St. Tammany Library Alliance, the board of control for the St. Tammany Library in Louisiana recently made headlines for its decision to keep challenged books on the shelves.
Despite extreme pressure from a group of local residents who sought to ban the books, the Alliance played a crucial role in defending free expression and promoting intellectual freedom. The controversy in the Parish began when a small but vocal group demanded that the library remove several books they deemed inappropriate for young readers. Among the targeted books were "George" by Alex Gino, "I Am Jazz" by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and "Two Boys Kissing" by David Levithan. The pro-censorship side argued that these books promoted a "gender ideology" and were unsuitable for children.
In response to the book banners, the St. Tammany Library Alliance launched a petition calling on the library board to uphold free expression and resist censorship. The petition gathered over 3,500 signatures from community members who recognized the importance of promoting diversity and understanding in literature. At the March 27, 2023 public meeting, the Alliance showed up in droves. Most of the public comments were against removing the challenged books. Many parents took to the podium to defend them as useful teaching resources.
According to a story in the Louisiana Illuminator, "Ultimately, the board found that none of the challenged books met the criteria to be considered as harmful to minors and voted to keep them on library shelves. The board also voted to extend its time to read and review the remaining challenged books that will be discussed at future meetings." The board affirmed its commitment to free expression and noted that it had policies in place to handle challenges to library materials.
The St. Tammany Library Alliance is an amazing example of a local community coming together to support free expression and combat censorship. The Alliance efforts have been met with enthusiastic support from community members who recognize the value of the library system and the importance of preserving access to diverse ideas and perspectives. Their petition and advocacy efforts helped to raise awareness of the issue and generate support for intellectual freedom.
The St. Tammany Library Board's decision to keep the challenged books on the shelves is a victory for anti-censorship advocates and a testament to the power of community action in defending free expression. It shows that when we stand up for our principles and values, we can promote diversity and understanding in literature.
The fight isn't over in St. Tammany Parish. As the Illuminator article notes, as of December, 79 titles at St. Tammany libraries had been challenged and there are currently 152 books under review. You can donate directly to help the St. Tammany Library Alliance achieve its goals on FundLibraries.org
EveryLibrary is proud to provide ongoing pro-bono support to the Alliance for its website and other organizing tools. Please reach out if your library community needs assistance making its voice heard for free expression and the First Amendment. We would be happy to see if we can help.