Will Sutton: Kids from Lafayette and elsewhere should read what they want. I’m here to help. | Columnist Will Sutton

Kids in Lafayette can no longer go to the library and check out “This Book is Gay.” Both the book and the entire teen nonfiction section were recently moved to adult nonfiction.

A movie called “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” can only be checked out by those 17 years of age and older because some Lafayette patrons consider the documentary about same-sex partners in Hollywood to be too risqué, controversial and, in the words of one patron, “evil.”

A few patrons challenged the Ruston-based Lincoln Parish Public Library, saying some books featuring gay and lesbian characters and relationships should not be available. They could not stand the idea of ​​people unlike them being represented in the free content offered by their local library. The library leadership decided to keep the content available, but restrict access. Only adults can check it out.

Louisiana is not alone.

According to the American Library Association, books and other library content are challenged and sometimes banned or restricted every year. In 2021, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom identified 729 library, school and university books and other content challenges involving more than 1,500 books. Not every challenge results in removals or restrictions. But these challenges are monitored by the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom – and they’re watching Louisiana.

Too often too few people want to control where we go, how we gain knowledge and perspective, and what we do with our bodies. They want to control what we – and our kids – read. Though a number of challenges nationally have included such important books as “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “The 1619 Project” by Nikole Hannah-Jones, much of the attention has been on LGBTQ materials.

When some people pursue such limitations, they push people to see what all the hubbub is about, driving up sales, digital views and library visits.

The massive Brooklyn Public Library is helping by supporting the ALA’s “Freedom to Read” with words and actions.

Louisiana youth and kids across the nation can access banned and restricted books and other content by asking for a Brooklyn library eCard. Youth ages 13-21 can email a short explanation sharing concerns about their local libraries and why they want access. The Brooklyn library system has 61 libraries, and our youth can access 350,00 e-books, 200,000 audiobooks and more than 100 databases. In addition, several often challenged books are available without holds and with unlimited access. They include the Morrison and Hannah-Jones books, plus “The Black Flamingo” by Dean Atta, “Tomboy” by Liz Prince, “Juliet Takes a Breath” by Gabby Rivera, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison. No parent approval needed.

Since the Brooklyn library launched the program in April, about 3,000 people have requested access, including a number of Louisiana kids and parents who want their children to have access to diverse content.

One Lafayette parent of a 13-year-old boy sought an eCard based on the recent goings-on in that lovely community.

“We adore our library system and it’s terrifying watching it get dismantled,” the parent wrote. “We really appreciate what the Brooklyn Public Library is doing.”

A local 19-year-old wrote with concerns that the Louisiana Legislature might follow Florida’s content ban, further limiting access to books and knowledge. The youth said teens at a local library push to include more diverse content.

“I would love to have an eBPL card and be able to access books and resources that I would not otherwise be able to, and to share these resources with my friends and peers who are facing similar challenges and obstacles,” the youth wrote.

It cost libraries to provide free access to all types of content. The Brooklyn library system can provide this open youth content access because donors are stepping up to push back against book and content bans. They have enough contributions that the program launched and continues, for a limited time.

There are 340 public libraries in our state, including 64 parish libraries and three municipal libraries. Fortunately, only Lafayette and Lincoln Parishes are ALA’s radar.

I want kids eager to read, excited to learn and interested in exploring people and characters like them and unlike them.

I’m certain there are one, two or three that would love to broaden access and expand reading for our youth. If you or someone you know can help, get it going by contacting your local library or reaching out to the ALA so that Louisiana can join the Freedom to Read.

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