St. Tammany library signs off on policy to relieve burden of book challenges
Dolores Crain, left, protests a new St. Tammany Library Policy that would place certain graphic novels behind the circulation desk. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuminator)
The St. Tammany Library Board has approved policy that would prevent books from being removed from shelves when multiple and subsequent challenges are filed for the same title.
The library board has received an unprecedented 203 complaints since August 2022, with most challenges coming from the same handful of conservative activists with the St. Tammany Library Accountability Project. Most of their objections involve children’s and young adult books with LGBTQ+ themes.
The new policy, approved at Monday’s board meeting, allows for a decision on a complaint to stand for five years. Any individual who challenges a book already challenged within the five-year period would receive a copy of the report formulated from the initial challenge.
Tanya DiMaggio, the library’s assistant director of support services, said the library’s rules committee came up with the policy change after studying similar policy from other libraries and discovered it is not uncommon to place limits on challenges.
While items are under reconsideration, a process in which a panel of library employees review the material in its entirety and come to a decision as a committee, library policy requires the books to be moved behind the circulation desk. They are still available for check-out during the review but not for browsing.
However, in many cases, the review panel must use all copies of a title the library has, making the item completely unavailable.
The five-year decision policy was supported by most community members who spoke at Monday’s meeting.
Several commenters pointed out many of the book challenges filed by the same person contain the same exact language, suggesting they may have been copied and pasted. The titles also match those most commonly challenged nationwide, leading some to surmise challengers had not read the books but rather pulled the titles from a list distributed by a national organization.
Kevin Marino, a member of the St. Tammany Library Alliance, an anti-censorship group, supported the policy but made suggestions to make it even tighter.
“I believe these proposed changes y’all came up with don’t do enough,” Marino said.
He took issue with the provision that pulls books off the shelves while they’re under review, asking the board to consider keeping them accessible for browsing.
“Putting them where you have to ask for has been proven to be a First Amendment violation,” Marino said.
Marino also asked the board to calculate the financial cost of the review process and require challengers to pay a fee if they file more than five challenges.
“What I’m against is people abusing the system, which is what this group is doing,” Marino said, referring to the St. Tammany Accountability Project. “They’ve filed way too many of these and there needs to be a financial burden.”
Three residents spoke against the policy, two of whom did not raise specific concerns but instead decried the challenged materials as pornography or too sexual for minors. A third suggested the five-year period to let decisions stand was too long.
In addition to clamping down on attempts to keep titles inaccessible, the policy would aid library employees who have been bogged down with challenge review responsibilities.
The board previously extended its window to review challenged materials from 45 days to 120 days, but even that is proving to be too much of a time crunch. The board is moving through three or four titles every other month.
Maxwell Sejud contributed to this story.
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