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School Librarian Continues Defamation Law Suit; Champions First Amendment Rights of All

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Late this summer, Louisiana’s School Librarian of the Year, Amanda Jones, stood up to speak against censorship at the Livingston Parish Public Library.

“I’d been following what was happening in Lafayette Parish,” Jones said, “and when I saw my local library in Livingston Parish had books and signage on the agenda, I went to talk.”

In the days afterward, she became subject of several social media posts by right-wing groups Citizens for a New Louisiana (captained by Michael Lunsford) and Bayou State of Mind (captained by Ryan Thames). These posts images of Jones with text suggesting she advocates teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds and transphobic language around how she changed her user name on Facebook after harassment from Thames. New Citizens FOIAs to Jones’s workplace, demanding access to employment records, among other things.

Jones took Lunsford and Thames to court on charges of defamation. The lawsuit sought to put an end to the groups posting about her, as well as offer a protective order and punitive damages–Jones has been subject to not only regular posts in the groups, but she has received numerous threats against her safety in the months since standing up against book bans.

In September, Judge Erika Sledge dismissed the case, calling the posts matters of opinion and not fact. The defendants argued that when Jones spoke at the library board meeting, she made herself a public figure. As such, the legal right to claim defamation is much more challenging.

“I am deeply disappointed in the ruling, and concerned about other educators, parents, and students who might not feel able to defend our schools and our libraries if it opens them up to violence and hate,” explains Jones. “Over the past few weeks, I have prayed long and hard about my path forward, as well as spoken at length with family and friends. I decided I could not give up after the first round. That is why I filed a motion that asks the judge to reconsider her ruling and proposes an amended petition that restates my claims.”

The Motion for a New Trial, available in full here, gives much more context to the story of harassment to which Jones has been subjected. Jones, who still works as a school librarian, is preparing to take a medical leave in the spring because of the toll this has taken on her health.

November 21 is the date of the new trial.

Jones, were she to lose the new trial, would be liable not only for her legal costs, but also for the fees of those she’s seeking action against. In other words, she may be required to pay the costs of those who have been harassing her in the name of standing up for her own rights to not be subject to defamation, harassment, and death threats.

“It is important that I continue to fight to protect myself and others from the horrible attacks I have faced, and to show all of our children that we must never give in to bullies,” she said. “[T]he cause of standing up against censorship, so that libraries are safe havens for every member of our community, is priceless.”

Jones’s full statement about continuing her fight is available on her website, and anyone interested in helping her cover the cost of legal fees is invited to donate to her GoFundMe.

“I will continue to speak out at any further attempts, and in defense of dedicated, hard working educators and librarians. We must all remain vigilant, to protect our children’s’ right to be safe and included in our community and to get a good education. We are all stronger and safer when we join together to speak out against their hate and division. It is time to take a stand,” she said.

Find below the full text of the statement Jones gave at the Livingston Parish Board Meeting.

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 LPL 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 LPL 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.