November 27, 2022

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

School librarian pursues defamation lawsuit; Advocate of the first amendment rights of all

7 min read

In late summer, Louisiana’s School Librarian of the Year, Amanda Jones, stood up to speak out against censorship at the Livingston Parish Public Library.

“I had been following what was happening in Lafayette Parish,” Jones said, “and when I saw that my local library in Livingston Parish had books and signage on the agenda, I went to talk.”

In the days that followed, she became the subject of multiple social media posts by right-wing groups Citizens for a New Louisiana (led by Michael Lunsford) and Bayou State of Mind (led by Ryan Thames). These post pictures of Jones with text suggesting she is committed to teaching 11-year-olds anal sex and transphobic language about how she changed her Facebook username following Thames harassment. New Citizen FOIAs on Jones’ workplace, requesting, among other things, access to employment records.

Jones took Lunsford and Thames to court for defamation. The lawsuit was aimed at ending the groups’ postings about her, as well as offering a protective order and punitive damages — not only has Jones been regularly posted on the groups, but she has received numerous threats to her safety in the months since I opposed book bans rebel

In September, Judge Erika Sledge dismissed the case, calling the offices a matter of opinion rather than fact. The defendants argued that when Jones spoke at the library committee meeting, she made herself a public figure. As such, the legal right to claim defamation is much more difficult.

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“I am deeply disappointed by the ruling and concerned about other educators, parents and students who may not feel able to defend our schools and our libraries if it exposes them to violence and hatred,” Jones said. “In the last few weeks I have prayed long and hard about my future path and have spoken extensively with family and friends. I decided I couldn’t give up after the first round. Because of this, I have filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider her decision and proposing an amended petition that reiterates my claims.”

The motion for a new trial, available in full here, gives much more context to the story of the harassment Jones faced. Jones, who still works as the school librarian, is preparing to take sick leave in the spring as it has affected her health.

November 21st is the date of the new trial.

Should she lose the new lawsuit, Jones would be liable not only for her legal fees, but also for the fees of those she plans to sue. In other words, she can be asked to pay the costs of those who have harassed her in the name of standing up for her own rights to avoid being the victim of defamation, harassment and death threats.

“It is important that I keep fighting to protect myself and others from the horrific attacks I have faced and to show all our children that we must never give in to bullies,” she said. “[T]The reason to stand up against censorship so that libraries are safe havens for all members of our community is priceless.”

Jones’ full statement on continuing her fight is available on her website, and anyone interested in helping her cover legal fees is invited to donate to her GoFundMe.

“I will continue to speak out on any further attempts and in defense of dedicated, hard-working educators and librarians. We must all remain vigilant to protect our children’s rights to safety and inclusion in our community, and to a good education. We are all stronger and safer when we unite to speak out against their hatred and division. It’s time to take a stand,” she said.

Below is the full text of the statement Jones made at the Livingston Parish Board Meeting.

My name is Amanda Jones. I’m the School Library Journal’s 2021 National Librarian of the Year, an international speaker and advocate for libraries, and President of the LA Association of School Librarians. I am here as a representative of this organization but more importantly as a lifelong resident of Livingston Parish, a parent of one child in this county and a taxpayer. I’m here tonight because book content and book signage is on the agenda for tonight. I hope that what I am about to say is not necessary and that my fears of a board member attempting to censor books and signs are unfounded.

While book challenges are often conducted with the best of intentions and in the name of age appropriateness, they often target marginalized communities like BIPOC and the LBGTQ community. They also target books on sexual health and reproduction. Considering that Livingston Parish has the highest rate of foster children per capita in Louisiana, and that number has doubled in recent years, I find it ironic that every member of the community should have access to every book on Reproduce or Move It Away from our children who need it most. Once you start moving and locking a topic, it becomes a slippery slope and where does it end?

All members of our community deserve to be seen, have access to information, and see themselves in our PUBLIC library collection. Censoring and moving books and exhibits is harmful to our community, but will be extremely harmful to our most vulnerable – our children. According to the Trevor Project, “LGBTQ youth are not inherently vulnerable to suicide because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but rather are at greater risk because of community abuse and stigma.”

Libraries are for everyone. According to the American Library Association, of which I am a member,

LIBRARIES ARE A cornerstone of the community dedicated to meeting everyone’s information needs. As such, they collect and make available a variety of information resources that represent the breadth of human thought and experience. With such a wide range of ideas and information available, it is inevitable that people will occasionally come across resources that they feel are inappropriate for their family.

Just because you walk into a library doesn’t mean you won’t see something you don’t like. Libraries have diverse collections with resources from many angles, and a library’s mission is to provide access to information for all users. All library users have First Amendment rights to borrow, read, view, and listen to library resources, according to the ALA. If an individual has a concern about a children’s or young adult resource or its location in the library, that individual has the right to review the library’s pre-existing review policy. Every family has the right to determine what library resources are acceptable for their own children, but individuals must also recognize that they must give equal rights to all other parents.

The citizens of our community are made up of white, black, brown, gay, straight, Christian, and non-Christian taxpayers—people from all walks of life, and no part of the community should have access to the rest of the community as designated citizens. Just because you don’t want to read or see it doesn’t give you the right to oppose others or request its transfer. What message do we send to our community members when we remove or move books with LBGTQ or sexual health content? Why is your belief system more important than others? What’s next when you complete your mission? Parents have a personal responsibility to supervise their own child’s reading and no one else’s.

LPL Director Giovanni Tairov has worked wonders for our public library, making it an award-winning system. There’s a reason the Louisiana Library Association named him its 2019 Public Library Director of the Year. Trust his judgment and that of the other committed LPL employees. There is a solid collection development policy. Nobody puts pornography in the children’s section of the library. Stop this false narrative. The collection’s librarians hold library science degrees and use professional ratings that list age relevance and age appropriateness before deciding where to place them in the library. A book challenge process is already in place if a community member doesn’t like a particular book or a book’s location in the library. As board members, I hope you already know this.

To Board Member Erin Sandefur, who brought this item to the agenda, I would like to say this: you once posted on social media that there are people who disagree with you and that we can be one of your greatest teachers. That is an admirable statement. I would like to educate you on how harmful censorship, book control, and agenda items like these are affecting our youth and historically marginalized parishioners.

I would like to say this to the entire board: I grew up in this parish and I was taught that God is love. What has become clear to me is that many people believe that God is love only if you share the same religious and political beliefs as they do. I have lived in our community for 44 years. I am the mother of one child in our school system. I have been an LPL card holder since 1983. I’ve watched our public library grow into one of our community’s greatest assets – something to be proud of. I will remind the board members that regardless of your own beliefs about book content and location, you should think about this – nobody on the right side of history has ever been on the side of censorship and book hiding. In the words of author Stephen Chbosky, “Baning books gives us peace of mind when we need speeches. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It blinds us when we need to see.” Hate and fear disguised as moral outrage have no place in Livingston Parish.

Thank you for letting me speak tonight.

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