Louisiana proposal would give local governments more say-so on library boards

Room packed with people during a library board meeting
Citizens pack a Lafayette library board meeting in February. Photo by Travis Gauthier

This story was first reported by Louisiana Illuminator and republished with permission.

A bill the Louisiana Legislature will consider would limit the power of local library boards by giving parish officials the freedom to remove members at will. Critics have concerns about how that will impact minority voices within the community. 

House Bill 25, sponsored by Reps. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, and Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, would give parish councils and police juries more authority over local library boards.

Currently, local officials appoint library board members to five-year terms. If the bill is adopted, board members would serve at the pleasure of the governing authority, meaning they can be removed at any time, for any reason.

Critics are concerned the move would put at risk what few allies the LGBTQ community has on local library boards.

Mel Manuel, a spokesperson for the St. Tammany Library Alliance, raised concerns about a domino effect if far-right conservatives are elected to the parish council.

“The parish council will fire our board and put a dummy board in place, who would in turn have the power to fire our librarians and hire new ones based on whatever they want,” Manuel said. “That will mean ultimately that there won’t be Pride displays in the library, and we won’t have queer literature.”

“That’s effectively erasing queer identity from Louisiana,” Manuel added.

In an interview, Hollis said he believes his bill would have a positive impact for all communities.

“I trust that our council would make sure they have a broad swath of representation,” Hollis said. “Everybody deserves a voice and a seat at the table.”

Hollis said his intention was to introduce more accountability for library boards, as he believes there is currently too little accountability after a board member is appointed for a five-year term.

“When you start making too many missteps, you’re going to be called on the carpet so to speak,” Hollis said.

Hollis added he would like to see other appointed local boards be subject to similar accountability. He did not include them in this bill because nobody has brought problems with other boards or commissions to his attention, he said.

Hollis said he felt strongly enough about the library issue to make it one of the five non-fiscal bills he is permitted to introduce in the regular legislative session.

Manuel pointed out that although books with LGBTQ themes make up a tiny percentage of books in local libraries, they often dominate the discussion of what content is inappropriate for children.

Attorney General Jeff Landry’s “Protecting Innocence” report identified nine books that contained what he believes to be sexually explicit material. Of those nine, six touch on LGBTQ themes. None of the books are intended for children.

Dozens of books were targeted for removal in Louisiana last year. Of the six most-challenged books, four of them are targeted to the LGBTQ community.

Lynette Mejía, a Lafayette-based anti-censorship advocate, believes that the Lafayette Parish Council has exerted more control over its Library Board of Control than other parishes. Other localities shouldn’t follow in Lafayette’s footsteps, she said

“Our parish council definitely … has had an agenda in the appointments that they’ve made to our library board,” Mejía said. “We have tried our best to lobby them to get them to change who they appoint to our library board.”

Mejía lamented the impact Hollis’ bill and other prefiled legislation would have on the community.

“This push to make these laws and to legitimize these bigoted points of view is really a shame because people who might have benefited from what the library has to offer, which is exposure to other worldviews, are going to pay for that,” Mejía said. “They’re going to pay for that with the education they would have received at the library by being exposed to those books.”