speaking out

September 23, 2022 update

As a librarian I know the power of words. Their ability to change hearts and minds, to move us forward or to divide us, is something that I share with my students every day. Right now, extremists are using violent and divisive language to scare me and hurt my reputation.

The people they incite have called me a pedophile, groomer, and pervert. Their words are gross and false, malicious and dangerous.

They are attacking me because I am defending our community’s right to a great education, to have access to materials that reflect the reality of their world, and that engage them in learning. I am a middle school librarian, a mother, and a lifelong resident of our community. I have been teaching for 22 years and I work closely with my students' parents to keep them safe.

On Wednesday, a judge determined that it is okay for these falsehoods to continue to be spread freely on social media, even if they “hurt my feelings.” But this was never about my feelings. This is about our collective safety and our children’s right to be, and to learn. This is about making it safe for educators to do their jobs, and for children to have truly great educational opportunities. While it is never easy or comfortable to do so, we must continue to stand up to these bullies to ensure that all of our students are safe, respected, and free to learn.

These past few weeks have been the hardest of my life. I am deeply disappointed in the court's decision, and appalled that the court does not recognize the violent power of the words falsely used to intimidate me. However, I am proud of choosing to challenge these bullies, and stand up for the best interests of our community. I am proud that the Livingston Parish Library System chose to do the same by refusing to ban books in our library collection. There is a vocal minority of bullies hurling violent insults. We are all stronger and safer when we join together to speak out against their hate and division.

Thank you to the hundreds of supporters who have stood by me. I have never felt more loved and supported in all of my life. Perhaps most wonderful, so many of my former students reached out to me with words of encouragement, and to tell me how I helped shape their lives for the better. In the end, that is what all educators aspire to do. We give our all to support our students and try to make the world a better place for them. Hearing from my former students lets me know that I have accomplished that in my 22 years as an educator. Inspired by that knowledge, I will continue to do so.

God has a plan for me. I do not yet know what that entails, but I will continue to give this life and this profession my all with dignity. I will take some time to consider my next steps, and will keep you posted. Until then, I send my thanks and all courage to the professionals doing the best they can by every single one of their students, every single day.

On Tuesday, July 19th, I spoke publicly at the Livingston Parish Public Library Board of Control Meeting as a resident of my community. Below is a copy of the speech I read word-for-word. I also have an audio recording of that meeting to back up the fact that this was my exact speech. Since that meeting, I have been harassed and defamed online and am seeking legal action. I will keep you updated as much as legally possible on this journey as things progress. I will not sit by and let my good name be tarnished by lies. Thank you to the hundreds of organizations, librarians, educators, friends, and family who have reached out in support. I truly appreciate you!

My public comments on July 19, 2022
"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 Livingston Parish Library 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 Livingston Parish Library 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."