Amanda Jones has been an educator and school librarian for over 20 years. Among her accolades, Co-Librarian of the Year by School Library Journal, Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2021, and 2020 School Librarian of the Year in Louisiana.
Jones, who serves as the President of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, now finds herself at the center of a coordinated attack campaign by the groups Citizens for a New Louisiana and a local political Facebook group because of a speech she gave at her local public library board meeting.
“I’d been following what was happening in Lafayette Parish,” Jones explained, “and when I saw my local library in Livingston Parish had books and signage on the agenda, I went to talk.”
Giving the speech as a resident of the county, Jones implored the board to continue in their mission of providing access to books and information.
I grew up in this parish being taught that God is love. What I’ve come to realize is that what many people mean is that God is love only if you have the same religious and political beliefs as them. I have lived in our parish for 44 years. I am a mother of a child in our school system. I have been a LPL card holder since 1983. I have watched our public library grow to be one of our parish’s biggest assets—something we can be proud of. I will remind board members that regardless of your own beliefs on the topic of book content and location, to think about this—no one on the right side of history has ever been on the side of censorship and hiding books.
The speech named no books, and Jones was among 20 community members who showed up at the board meeting to speak. All but one of those spoke out against book and book display censorship in the library.
Livingston Parish citizens weren’t the only ones to show up to the meeting, though. Members of Citizens for a New Louisiana, based in Lafayette, came to speak in favor of censorship like that they’ve advocated for in their home library. After the meeting, Jones found herself at the center of an attack campaigns from Citizens and from another local Facebook group–left unnamed throughout this piece to avoid drawing attention to them, which they relish–based in Livingston Parish.
The library board tabled the discussion at the meeting, putting it back on the agenda for September.
Local news wrote about the meeting, and from there, the local Facebook group began creating a series of memes featuring Jones. These included images of Jones with text suggesting she advocates teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds and transphobic language around how she changed her user name on Facebook after harassment from the group. New Citizens, on the other hand, took their harassment a different way and have submitted FOIAs to Jones’s workplace, demanding access to employment records, among other things.
“I’m being targeted because of my role,” says Jones. Despite the fact she showed up to the meeting as a citizen, because she is a librarian, these groups latched on to her job and expertise and used it to further fuel their own mis- and dis- information campaigns.
“If they can take me down and silence me, they can do it to anyone. Someone has to stand up to them or they will continue attempting to silence others.”
Although the American Library Association and Louisiana Library Association have offered little help, organizations like EveryLibrary and FReadom Fighters have reached out willing to help. Jones is taking action and filing lawsuits against both groups. A GoFundMe has been set up to cover the legal fees.
Among the donors is the creator of the local Facebook group waging the attack campaign. His message? “Lets GOOO.”
Jones is worried about what will happen as civil and legal proceedings progress against the groups, but emphasizes that while she’s scared, she needs to do this to protect herself, as well as protect others from being silenced and having their First Amendment rights violated.
“These organizations are trying to scare us and they’re generally accomplishing it,” she says, stating that it is important for librarians, particularly those working in schools, to protect themselves now in preparation for a school year likely to be riddled with continued censorship attempts. “Lock down social media and take your personal information off social media. More people need to be speaking up about this, but I understand that first and foremost we need to protect ourselves.”
Groups like Citizens and the local Facebook group are similar to those operating across the country, both on a local level and on state and national levels. They’re well funded and well organized, and Jones says those fighting for intellectual freedom need to be, too.
“Start in small ways,” she says, “sit in the audience of board meetings if you don’t want to or are afraid to speak. This is going to take citizens showing up, not just those in the industry.”
Much of the success of groups like those attacking her comes thanks to social media, and Jones says it will take more people posting about the need to have access to books and information freely to counter their narratives. People need to know what’s happening in their communities–and know who is speaking on their behalf–and show up.
“White people need to speak up and out. Historically marginalized communities shouldn’t have to fight this fight because the fight is against them. This is their material and their lives,” Jones says. “More white people need to show up, speak out, and do the work.”
You can donate to help Jones in her legal proceedings here. Find below the full text of the speech she gave at the Livingston Parish Library board meeting late last month.
My name is Amanda Jones. I am the 2021 School Library Journal National Librarian of the Year, an international speaker and advocate on behalf of libraries, and am President of the LA Association of School Librarians. I am here as a representative of that organization, but more importantly as a lifelong resident of Livingston Parish, parent of a child in this district, and taxpayer. I am here tonight because book content and book signage have been listed on tonight’s agenda. I hope that what I am about to say is not needed, and that my fear that a member of the board is trying to censor books and signage is unfounded.
While book challenges are often done with the best intentions, and in the name of age appropriateness, they often target marginalized communities such as BIPOC and the LBGTQ community. They also target books on sexual health and reproduction. Considering that Livingston Parish has the highest rate of children in foster care per capita in Louisiana, and that number has doubled over the past few years, I find it ironic that any member of the community would want to limit access to any book on reproduction or relocate it away from the our children who need it the most. Once you start relocating and banning one 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 relocating books and displays 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 prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.”
Libraries are for everyone. According to the American Library Association, of which I am a member of,
LIBRARIES ARE A cornerstone of the community dedicated to serving the information needs of everyone. As such, they collect and make available a wide variety of information resources representing the range of human thought and experience. With such a broad spectrum of ideas and information available, it is inevitable that people will occasionally encounter resources they believe to be inappropriate for their family.
Just because you enter a library, it does not mean that you will not see something you don’t like. Libraries have diverse collections with resources from many points of view, and a library’s mission is to provide access to information for all users. All library users have the First Amendment right to borrow, read, view, and listen to library resources, according to the ALA. If an individual is concerned about a children’s or young adult’s resource or its location in the library, that individual has the right to go through the library’s reconsideration policy that is already in place. Each family has the right to determine which library resources are acceptable for its own children, but individuals must also realize that they must afford the same rights to all other parents.
The citizens of our parish consist of tax payers who are white, Black, brown, gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian—people from all backgrounds and walks of life, and no one portion of the community should dictate what the rest of the citizens have access to. Just because you don’t want to read it or see it, it doesn’t give you the right to deny others or demand its relocation. If we remove or relocate books with LBGTQ or sexual health content, what message is that sending to our community members? Why is your belief system any more important than others’? What will be next if you accomplish your mission? Parents have a personal responsibility to monitor their own child’s reading and nobody else’s.
The LPL Director Giovanni Tairov has accomplished wonders for our public library and made it into an award-winning system. There’s a reason the Louisiana Library Association named him the 2019 Public Library Director of the Year. Trust his judgment and those of the other dedicated LPL employees. There is a solid collection development policy in place. Nobody is putting pornography in children’s sections of the library. Stop that false narrative. The librarians over the collection have library science degrees and use professional reviews, which list ages of relevancy and age appropriateness, before deciding where to place them in the library. There is already a book challenge process if a community member does not like a particular book or location of a book in the library. As board members, I would hope you already know that.
To board member Erin Sandefur who placed this item on the agenda, I will say this—You once posted on social media that there are folks who do not agree with you and that we can be one of your greatest teachers. That is an admirable statement. I would love to teach you about how harmful censorship, book policing, and agenda items like these affect our youth and historically marginalized community members.
To the entire board, I will say this: I grew up in this parish being taught that God is love. What I’ve come to realize is that what many people mean is that God is love only if you have the same religious and political beliefs as them. I have lived in our parish for 44 years. I am a mother of a child in our school system. I have been a LPL card holder since 1983. I have watched our public library grow to be one of our parish’s biggest assets—something we can be proud of. I will remind board members that regardless of your own beliefs on the topic of book content and location, to think about this—no one on the right side of history has ever been on the side of censorship and hiding books. In the words of author Stephen Chbosky: “Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.” Hate and fear disguised as moral outrage have no place in Livingston Parish.
Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight.