Controversial library director bill passes House

Photo by Robin May

After taking some heated challenges on the floor, a controversial Lafayette bill that would change the qualifications to become a library director passed the House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon.

The House approved HB974 by freshman Rep. Josh Carlson, R-Lafayette, 65-38 after about 40 minutes of debate. Five members challenged Carlson from the back mic, questioning the need for the bill and why a local Lafayette bill was being applied statewide. Only one member spoke in favor of the bill, saying it would benefit rural library boards by providing more flexibility.

“This is more controversial than I thought it would be,” Carlson admitted when he closed on the bill, after fielding sometimes hostile questions.

But the controversy is now years old, as the Lafayette ParishLibrary Board of Control has been embroiled in ideological disputes between its ideologically conservative board and its directors.

Man in blue suit speaks to a crowd with a microphone
State Rep. Josh Carlson, R-Lafayette, is a former Lafayette Parish councilman

Lafayette has been without a permanent library director since last year, when Danny Gillane resigned after the board attempted to fire him illegally. Gillane, who has applied for his old job, was re-appointed on an interim basis this week after acting director Sarah Monroe resigned. Gillane is one of six people to apply for the permanent position.

That context was never mentioned during Tuesday’s floor debate, however.

Currently, the state board of library examiners requires that a library director have a master’s degree in library science from a school accredited by the American Library Association. Carlson’s bill would change the qualification to a master’s degree in any field, making it statutory, not an administrative rule. The Lafayette library board and the state library board have since severed ties with the ALA for political reasons.

“All my bill does is say you can consider others,” Carlson said. “I’m not saying everyone with a master’s degree is capable of running a library system. It just permits the board to weigh other options.”

Later he added, “There’s a national push in every industry to expand” requirements to meet shortages. “I don’t think you can judge a leader by his degree alone,” he said.

The Lafayette House delegation split along strict party lines on the bill. Carlson’s fellow Republicans Beau Beaullieu, Julie Emerson, Troy Hebert and Brach Myers voted for it; Democrats Tehmi Chassion and Marcus Bryant voted nay.

Carlson’s bill was reported last week from the House Education Committee, of which he is a member. It earlier had stalled in the House Municipal and Parochial Affairs Committee until Carlson arranged to have it moved to his own committee.

Carlson represented the Youngsville area on the Lafayette Parish Council until being elected to the state House last fall for District 43, which encompasses the west side of Lafayette.He succeeded term-limited Rep. Stuart Bishop.