Louisiana attorney general creates 'protecting minors' tip line to report library books

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Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has created an online tip line to report books found in libraries that residents think are inappropriate to stop the "taxpayer-subsided sexualization of children."

Landry, who is running for governor in 2023, announced the tip line in a Facebook post on Wednesday with few details. In the post, he said he met with residents in Slidell who "want to protect the children" in St. Tammany Parish.

"Since taking office, Attorney General Jeff Landry has been committed to working with Louisiana communities to protect minors from exploitation, including early sexualization, grooming, sex trafficking, and abuse," Cory Dennis, a spokesperson for Landry's office said in an email statement.

"Recently, he spoke with parents and grandparents who are concerned about specific books of a sexual nature that are not age-appropriate yet remain accessible to young children within public libraries. This recent discussion touched on the important work our Cyber Crime Unit does every day to protect Louisiana children from exploitation, outlined the very real risks & potential consequences of the early sexualization of children, and encouraged parents and guardians to remain not only engaged in their child's development but also vigilant over their content consumption.

"Our submissions portal was created to give parents across the state a voice in this matter, and we look forward to future discussions."

Attorney General Jeff Landry request press conference before court hearing. Thursday, June 10, 2021.
Attorney General Jeff Landry request press conference before court hearing. Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director for the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, said the tip line is the first the advocacy organization has seen.

"I am both dismayed and puzzled. Libraries have long had policies on the books that allow any library user to raise a concern about a book," she said. "Every book has its reader. Public libraries serve a wide range of information needs for everyone in the community. There are going to be books that people disagree with or don't think are suitable for their kids. But they're there because they serve the information needs of someone in the community."

Libraries should connect children with data that will help them be more informed, thoughtful and productive members of society, the tip line's website states.

"Librarians and teachers are neither empowering nor liberating our children by connecting them with books that contain extremely graphic sexual content that is far from age appropriate for young audiences," the website states.

"If this type of taxpayer-subsided sexualization of children has impacted you or your family, tell us about it below. Please use the form to share your experience with librarians, teachers, school board members, district superintendents, and/or library supervisors."

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Dennis did not answer questions from The Daily Advertiser about how the tip line will be monitored, how a complaint will be deemed credible nor what actions could be taken as a result of a tip being submitted.

"We would also remind the community that local public libraries are controlled by their local governments, and the community should have a say in those standards," Dennis said in the statement.

Librarians are thoughtful when selecting books for their communities, Caldwell-Stone said. Reporting librarians and library materials to government agencies stigmatizes access to information that some families may need, she said.

"It makes targets out of librarians who are public servants, just trying to serve the information needs of their community," she said. "But it suggests that in fact, that information that people want and need books about gender identity, sexual orientation, sex ed books are somehow illegal when they are not."

Caldwell-Stone said the ALA has seen an increase in attacks on librarians in recent months. She also said it has seen an enormous demands to censor books in libraries, primarily books that deal with the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, race or depict the experiences of BIPOC people.

In June, the Lafayette Public Library Directory said the libraries would no longer feature book displays on subjects deemed to be “political” in a bid to take library workers “off of the frontlines” of culture war issues.

This year, at least three LGBTQ+ items were challenged for removal from the library’s collection, though none were removed. None of those materials were part of displays when they were challenged.

After recent challenges to LGBTQ+ materials failed, the library’s Board of Control voted to expand its ability to remove books from the library’s collection since librarians had twice thwarted those efforts in opposition to board members.

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A librarian in Livingston Parish filed a defamation lawsuit in August against the owners of two conservative Facebook groups, according to court filings. Amanda Jones spoke against restricting access to LGBTQ+ and sexual health books for youth.

Michael Lunsford, of Lafayette, and Ryan Thames, of Watson, posted in their groups accusing Jones of fighting to "keep sexually erotic and pornographic materials in the kid's section."

The lawsuit was dismissed in September after the judge ruled the statements were matters of opinion and not fact, KTBS reported. Jones' attorney said she would appeal the decision.

Caldwell-Stone said people should remember libraries are important for communities and are places where people can access the internet, prepare for college or new careers, and get information about being an entrepreneur.

"We really urge everyone who supports the library as an institution and as a source of information for everyone in the community, to be aware of what's going on at their local board meetings to speak up in favor of the work that librarians are doing and the role of the library in the community to fight back against the idea that just because someone doesn't agree with a book that it should be off the shelf, particularly books that deal ... with gender identity, sexual orientation," she said.

She said anyone who has an issue with a book should speak to a librarian and anyone concerned about book censorship can visit www.uniteagainstbookbans.org.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Louisiana attorney general creates tip line to report library books