Library Board discusses the disposition of controversial children’s book

If you were to ask any member of the Jackson Parish Library Board if they enjoyed being on the panel, 99% of the time the answer would be a resounding YES! The meeting held on Monday, July 17th, in the conference room at the Jonesboro Branch represented the other one percent. 

The reason was due to their being forced to confront the demand by several local residents made to have a children’s book entitled Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne and Max Lang  removed from circulation in the children’s section. 

Google Books previews the publication by saying: families, families, familiesNo matter your size, shape, or pedigree–if you love each other, you are a family! Moms, dads, sisters, brothers — and even Great Aunt Sue — appear in dozens of combinations, demonstrating all kinds of nontraditional families! 

For those not familiar with the issue, a few months back several area parents contacted the the administration of the Jackson Parish Library (JPL) in an uproar. Their complaint was that the book in question contained sensitive material that children should not be exposed to. In their opinion, the way the book read it promoted gay and lesbian lifestyles which they felt children should not be exposed to.  

Being accountable to the concerns, Director Floyd Knox and members of the JPL administration began an investigation. This included reaching out to other libraries across the state and the Library Development Division of the Louisiana State Library. Know also asked for clarification and interpretation of the governing laws of the library in regard to an issue like this as defined in the Standards for Louisiana Public Libraries. 

When no response or reply was immediately given, many begin to voice their feeling that their complaints were falling on deaf ears. In reality, the JPL administration was vigorously attempting to get guidance but was frustratingly forced to wait on a reply from their governing body and other agencies.  

Refusing to let up the pressure, parish residents went to the Jackson Parish Police Jury to request that the JPPJ ask the JPL to remove the book from circulation, which they did. 

On June 9th, JPPJ President Todd Culpepper penned a letter to JPL Director Floyd Knox stating a request that the book be removed while also acknowledging that the JPL was under no order to comply with the request and had the right to deny the recommendation just like any request made by a Jackson Parish citizen . It was.

Finally a response was received from the state. It came in the form of statutes of the Louisiana Library Bill of Rights, and guidelines from American Library Association (ALA) and the  American Association of Publishers (AAP). In summary what was relayed was that it all boiled down to the local Library Board having the autonomy to determine whether the content of a book was inflammatory or harmful to the audience it was geared to. 

Now knowing what legal position the Library Board had the Policy Committee delved into the verbiage of the governing rules and statutes for clarification of what could be and not could be done.  

At the opening of the Monday session public comments were asked for. Local resident Jonathan Matthews read a prepared statement which passionately expressed his desire to have the book removed. 

“This book is attempting to portray a homosexual relationship (represented by the two roosters) in an age appropriate manner,” said Matthews. “”It is our duty to protect children from abuse and grooming that this book will lead to. I am here tonight as a father of two young children and as a man in our community and I am asking this board to protect children and preserve their innocence instead of promoting deviancy.”

The first item on the stated agenda was to consider and act on the recommendation of the Policy Committee to leave the book on the shelves. A long discussion ensued led first by a member of the Policy Committee who explained the reasoning behind the suggestion was there was no specific inappropriate behavior described, characterized or even referred to.

“I read this book several times and even knowing what the concern was never once got the impression that it was promoting a LGBT platform,” said the Committee member. “There is a characterization of two roosters, both wearing ties, shown as portraying family members but no where does it ever condone any inappropriate behavior or even mention anything other than families are different in nature and made up differently. It goes into detail that some families have more than one dad and more than one mom but it doesn’t focus on that as it also states that some families are made up of grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, as well. It even mentions some are adopted into families and others have guardians but no where does it ever portray gay or lesbian activity or anything along those lines. I just don’t get the outcry as the theme of the book overwhelmingly is that every member of a family is important and should be loved regardless of how it is made up.”

Another board member stated that while she admits that she doesn’t condone that type of alternative lifestyle the main focus that the board had to consider is that the Library had guidelines they had to follow.

“We as a board are not in the position to allow our personal preferences and choices to be the overriding determining factor in the decisions we have to make. I don’t believe in that type of behavior and I guess if wanted to make the reach, you could say that the portrayal of the two roosters is of questionable taste. To me it is what you choose to see. Regardless, our primary responsibility is to make correct legal decisions regarding the Library.  The statutes clearly defines the parameters that allow for our board to remove a book from circulation. This book simply doesn’t even come close to meeting those requirements.”

The statutes and guidelines being referred to is Act 436 which was passed by the Louisiana Legislature in the 2023 regular session. In particular was the language of  Revised Statute  225 of the Act which stated:

The Legislature recognizes the fundamental right of parents as to the care, custody and control of their children. This includes the right to decide on the upbringing and education of children under their control. Parents have the right to guide and direct reading, listening and viewing choices of their minor children. Many libraries lack adequate policies addressing the access of minors to sexually explicit materials. In furtherance of this fundamental right, it is the intent of the legislature to require libraries to adopt and implement policy language to limit the access of minors to sexually explicit materials. 

Examples of what constitutes sexually explicit materials and what could be construed as sexual conduct was very descriptive and used specific wording not suitable for publication. 

After the parameters outlined were read and an actual reading of the book took place, one final comment by a board member was brought to the table.

“According to what I am hearing we have no right to pull this book as it doesn’t meet the guidelines stated. To me, in the first place this isn’t an issue that we should be forced to deal with. This issue lies at the feet of the parents who are responsible for educating their children on what is right and wrong. If they are doing what they are supposed to as parents then if a child did take what was in this book in the content that it seems everyone wants to read into it, then if they don’t believe that is right they should teach their child why. If they believe it is no problem then that is their right also. We are being asked to take a stand by the same parent who allows their child free reign of social media and exposure to much worse. It is the parent who should step up and use situations like this as an opportunity to educate their children on what is right and what is wrong.”

In the end the decision was made to table any vote until the next board meeting as there were several absent from the proceeding and it was felt that the entire board should have input on the final decision. 

For the record, disposition of the remaining agenda items, which included no longer requiring deposits for test materials, allow DVD’s/Blu Rays to be returned in the book drop and hearing updates on current projects, fell into the 99% category. 

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