On Wednesday, the Lincoln Parish Library Board in Ruston, Louisiana, voted ‘yes’ to keep contested books on its shelves. This decision came on the heels of recent community complaints about the books. This is one of several recent attempts at identity censorship across the country in the past few years.
The issue of contested books began mid-November when the Library Director and members from the Board of Control received multiple complaints from members of the community about certain books held in the children’s section.
The letters all contained identical language, which lends itself to the idea that an outside group organized the letter campaign. The letters asked that all “LGBTQ items” be removed on the grounds that “these items are unacceptable for viewing by children without their parents’ consent and input.” The letter included a passage claiming the books do not “reflect the values of our community.” Responding to pressure from the board, the Library Director removed the books from the shelves and moved them to the hold shelf, only accessible by request from an adult.
Among the books swept up in the complaint were books featured in the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books list and several graphic novel adaptations of the Wings of Fire book series. The books targeted all included LGBTQ+ people or characters; one book was targeted for briefly mentioning families with two moms.
This move is an attempt at identity censorship, denying access to the books in the library based on the identity of the people and characters portrayed. A ban like this could open a floodgate of censorship on previously challenged graphic novels like Drama, Lumberjanes, Tea Dragon Society, The Prince and the Dressmaker, and others. The library policy states
“The Lincoln Parish Library regards censorship as a purely individual matter and holds that while anyone is free to personally reject materials that they may consider offensive, one cannot exercise this right of censorship to restrict the freedom of others,” the policy reads. “Only parents and guardians have the right and responsibility to guide and direct the reading, listening, and viewing choices of their own minor children.”
The ALA’s Library Bill of Rights contains supporting policies including
Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
It is a breach of the First Amendment to deny access to the books and a breach of policy to deny access based on ‘doctrinal disapproval’ and ‘age.’ Stigmatizing a person’s identity and not allowing access to stories about specific members of our community can cause tremendous harm.
As one resident remarked at the open board meeting,
“As a gay man, as somebody who grew up with depression and anger having to deal with this, having LGBTQ books on the shelf will bring positivity to the children who are struggling.”
For resources to Fight Identity Censorship, go to our page here.