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Louisiana House committee shelves bills targeting libraries 

by Minden Press-Herald

PIPER HUTCHINSON | Louisiana Illuminator

In a contentious hearing, a Louisiana House Committee shelved two library bills Wednesday, including one that would have criminalized librarians for using public dollars with the nation’s preeminent professional organization for librarians.

The House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs involuntarily deferred two bills: House Bill 777 by Rep. Kellee Hennessy Dickerson, R-Denham Springs, which would prohibit the use of public funds on the American Library Association (ALA); and House Bill 946 by Rep. Jay Gallé, R-Covington, which would allow parish governments to remove library board members at any time, for any reason.

Both bills were spiked amid bipartisan pushback, with several Republicans raising concerns about libraries and librarians being targeted as part of a national agenda.

“It makes me sad that libraries and the people here in the audience have been vilified for a national narrative,” Rep. Jessica Domangue, R-Houma, said, referencing librarians in attendance.

The library bills are part of what many see as part of a culture war currently raging across the nation, including in Louisiana.

Upset with what they view as sexually explicit materials in libraries and the “Marxist” American Library Association, far-right activists have filed thousands of book challenges in the past few years and pushed libraries to disaffiliate with the ALA.

In Louisiana, public library oversight boards have mostly resisted calls to restrict book content, but some, including the State Library, have ended their ALA memberships.

The issue has captured the interest of Republicans in Louisiana, including Gov. Jeff Landry.

As attorney general, Landry set up a tip line to field complaints against libraries that he said failed to protect children from “early sexualization, as well as grooming, sex trafficking, and abuse.” Landry later drafted a “Protecting Innocence” report on libraries and supported legislation to restrict minors’ access to certain library materials.

Some on the House committee raised concerns Wednesday that the bills seemed to impose solutions sought by the representatives’ respective constituents on the rest of the state.

In Gallé’s St. Tammany Parish, the parish council is meeting Wednesday night to approve replacing its library board of control, which has resisted calls to ban books, angering arch-conservative council members. Gallé argued parish governments already have the power to do so, but his bill would codify this authority in state law.

Gallé’s bill is similar to one his predecessor, former Rep. Paul Hollis, who now sits on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, carried last year. Hollis’ bill was also involuntarily deferred in the same committee.

In Dickerson’s Livingston Parish, the library has been similarly mired in years-long controversy over book content. The library there has opted to sever its relationship with the American Library Association.

In its original form, Dickerson’s bill would have conferred jail time and fines to anybody who requested or authorized the use of public money with the American Library Association. Such expenses are fairly common in libraries, as many libraries are members to take advantage of ALA benefits or send their librarians to conferences for continuing education.

Before the bill was killed, Dickerson okayed amendments that would’ve watered down the punishments in the bill and exempted higher education. The ALA is an accrediting body for masters of library science programs. Programs with this accreditation typically maintain memberships with the organization.

Dickerson was joined in presenting her bill to the committee by Livingston Parish Council member Erin Sandefur and Livingston Parish Library Board of Control member Larry Davis. The trio argued the ALA is a “radical” organization, and everything it espouses runs contrary to “normative” views.

The organization is often in the crosshairs of conservatives due to the group’s advocacy on behalf of literature with LGBTQ+ themes.

The villainization of the American Library Association is something that perplexes most librarians.

“I’m not sure exactly what these people think go on at ALA conferences,” Suzanne Stauffer, an LSU library and information science professor, said in an interview. “It’s workshops about how to better meet the needs of their community.”

“Frankly, the conferences are dull,” Stauffer added, laughing.

Domangue made the same point to the committee, reading out names of panels at an upcoming ALA conference that she said had nothing to do with the “social justice” causes Dickerson and her allies were citing.

Rep. Vincent Cox, R-Gretna, reminded committee members the ALA was the first organization to hold a major convention in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, during which conference-goers raised money to aid libraries damaged by the storm.

Three other library bills are still alive for the current session: House Bill 414, by Rep Josh Carlson, R-Lafayette, and House Bill 545 by Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, would remove exceptions for public libraries and school libraries, respectively, from the state law on obscenity, while Carlson’s House Bill 974 removes the requirement that directors of parish library systems receive state certification, which requires librarians to pass an exam and hold a master’s degree in library science.

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