What amount of sexually oriented material should be available to young readers at Livingston Parish libraries? The Board of Control is trying to sort that out.
The library system’s young adult section carries a number of books exploring complex topics, like the “Gender Quest Workbook,” a collection of essays on “Gay Parenting,” and a teenage boy’s guide to “Dating and Sex.” A board member, Erin Sandefur, said this week she wanted to “simply ask the board to look into the contents of some of the books in our library.”
That simple request drew dozens of people to Tuesday’s board meeting. According to library records, it was the first time anyone from the public had spoken on an agenda item at a Board of Control meeting since May 2021.
“There’s no black and white to this, there’s a lot of different views you can take on that subject,” said Layton Ricks, the Livingston Parish president and a non-voting member of the library board. He said he couldn’t agree with letting one person decide what would be appropriate to have on the shelves.
“I personally wish these books are not at a library, but I understand the rights of everyone,” he said in an interview Thursday.
The library system’s director, Giovanni Tairov, fears Livingston Parish would step onto a slippery slope if the library board moved beyond its role to provide access to information.
“Removing, banning, or restricting books from public libraries paves the road to even wider censorship and the erosion of our country’s commitment to freedom of speech,” he said Thursday. “Libraries do not advocate, promote, or support any position or point of view.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Sandefur questioned the content of eight books and distributed photocopies of excerpts from some of them. The list includes:
All of these books are available in at least one of the parish’s library branches and have themes revolving around sexuality and gender identity. Five of the books center specifically around LGBTQ+ youth.
Sandefur said Tuesday she is uncomfortable with the sexually explicit content in each book, like an excerpt in “Dating and Sex” that discusses in detail how to perform various sex acts.
All but two of the eight books are listed under the Young Adult section, according to the Livingston library system’s catalog. Two are geared toward younger ages:
- “Sex is a Funny Word,” a graphic novel about puberty, sexuality and gender, is intended for children ages 8 to 10 and appeared on the American Library Association’s list of top-10 most challenged books of 2019. It also received two awards from the organization in 2016.
- “It Feels Good to Be Yourself” is a picture book about gender identity designated for preschoolers.
“She’s a transgender girl,” reads a page from the picture book. “That means when she was born everyone thought she was a boy. Until she grew a little older — old enough to tell everyone that she’s actually a girl.”
Six of these books were also found to be available Tuesday in the East Baton Rouge Parish library system, with the exception of “Dating and Sex” and “Polygamy.”
No action was taken on the matter Tuesday evening, though Sandefur said she planned to bring it back to the floor at the board’s next meeting in September.
Tairov said the library’s role is to provide users with the information they seek.
“The library’s collection represents a wide range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas so that all individuals can be provided with the opportunity to become lifelong learners — literate, informed, educated, and culturally enriched,” he said. “Librarians do not fringe on anyone’s fundamental right to access information. It is the responsibility of the parents and guardians to guide their own children in the selection of reading materials.”
The action to consider restricting access to these books joins an ongoing national trend to challenge or ban books related to LGBTQ+, Black history, sexual health and related issues.
A report by the American Library Association said that 2021 saw some of the highest numbers of challenges in the organization’s 20-year history, with 729 challenges being made against about 1,600 books nationwide. Many of those challenges are related to LGBTQ+, Black history, and sexual health issues.
In Lafayette, the library board has gained national attention for its discontinuation of Pride Month displays in libraries and just recently decided to move the entire nonfiction teen section to the adult nonfiction section.