MADISONVILLE – The St. Tammany Parish Library will move all graphic novels containing depictions of sex acts behind the circulation desk.
The decision came at Tuesday’s meeting (Feb. 28) of the library’s governing board, which voted 4-1 to approve a resolution to move all graphic novels containing depictions of “sexual conduct” as defined in Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s “Protecting Innocence” report, which includes a bulky proposed statute, and existing state law.
The materials will only be available to adults and minors whose parents or guardians have approved them for an unrestricted juvenile library card. The resolution states that online graphic novels would be similarly restricted.
Language in the approved resolution was watered down from the original version proposed at a December board meeting that would have placed every graphic novel behind the circulation desk.
St. Tammany Parish Library director Kelly LaRocca said that there are approximately 1,700 graphic novels in the library’s collection. Of those, LaRocca said she was only aware of five that meet Landry’s definition of sexually explicit. Implementing the resolution would require library staff to comb through each graphic novel in the library to determine which titles would be restricted, she said.
The resolution was subject to a lengthy public comment period during which a third of the meeting’s approximately 75 attendees offered input.
Most commenters spoke in opposition to the resolution, accusing the library board of censorship.
“[Relocating graphic novels] is censorship,” Roxanne Newman said. “It’s known as red flagging. It marks them as being considered dangerous in some way. It reduces complex works to a few isolated passages or panels without taking into consideration the artistic or literary merit of the work as a whole. It’s a slippery slope.”
Red flagging, which has been condemned by various censorship groups, refers to singling out and segregating books that contain mature content.
Newman added that relocating the books would not appease the library’s critics.
“It’s not going to satisfy those who want to ban books, and they’ve already made it clear that they will stop at nothing short of dismantling and defunding the public library system,” Newman said.
Newman’s comments referred to the St. Tammany Parish Library Accountability Project, a local conservative organization that has been critical of the library board. The group put out a statement Tuesday evening condemning the board’s actions.
“Tonight, Parish Council Chairman Jake Airey and the Library Board of Control purposefully ignored the well-researched guidelines of the Attorney General, and instead passed a politically expedient and empty resolution,” the group said in an unsigned Facebook post. “The library board admitted that the resolution would affect only 5 sexually explicit books of the hundreds in the parish libraries that are causing such outrage in the community.”
Two commenters used their time to bring the board’s attention to books containing sexual content by reading graphic sex scenes into the record. Both books identified were not graphic novels and therefore not subject to the resolution.
St. Tammany Parish Council members Arthur Laughlin and Maureen O’Brien spoke up during the public comment period in support of the resolution.
Laughlin also suggested establishing a community board to assist the library in sorting through challenges to over 150 book titles, a proposal first put forward by the Accountability Project. Laughlin’s proposal prompted several in the crowd to shout out “no.”
The board will meet again March 28 and is expected to discuss the litany of challenges it has received. Board members left the meeting with books they’re expected to review before the next meeting.
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