May 31, 2024 9:00am

The public opinion on public libraries: Don't dismantle a vital resource

In Lafayette Parish, residents like their local library but don't like what the board of control is doing.

Photo of Adam Daigle
Lafayette, LA Correspondent
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The news last month might not have registered with most folks outside Iberia Parish, but inside was a different story: Voters there said no to a tax renewal to fund the parishwide library system.

While officials there will try again in the fall to gain voter approval, it brings an uncomfortable scenario into the public discussion. Will the public library system there close?

And, more importantly, if it does, would voters in other parishes follow suit?

The Lafayette Parish Library System was the topic of this month’s Lafayette Power Poll, and it ended with an open question: If the library system would close, what effect would that have on you and your community.

Nearly 90% of voters said it would be major. Exactly 50% said there would be a major effect on the community while another 37% said it would be a major effect on both them personally and the community.

Yet there was 12% who indicated a closure would have a minor effect personally and on the community.

“As someone who uses the library regularly, if the library were to close, it would devastate Lafayette Parish as a whole,” wrote Brent Broussard, CEO and founder of the Broussard Enterprise Group. “Not only do we need libraries as a resource to find things that we need, but libraries are also crucial to the literacy rate and education.

“There are so many opportunities for kids in the city to go to a library and learn different topics that may end up sparking an interest into what they may want to become later in life.”

Libraries have fallen into the culture wars in areas across Louisiana and the country over which books that should be banned and other disputes. In Lafayette Parish, disputes go back years to the Drag Queen Story Time saga and continue to this day.

Now the library board of control appointed Danny Gillane after he was fired illegally then allowed to resign.

Asked their current opinion of the library system, 63% considered it favorable while 21% had no opinion and 16% considered it unfavorable.

Voter Lynette Mejia, who chairs the Lafayette Citizens Against Censorship group, wrote that she struggled with that question. She enjoys the library and the staff but “I hate what the current board of control is doing.”

“They are systematically dismantling our award-winning libraries in an attempt to impose their beliefs on everyone in our community,” she wrote. “It’s tragic.”

Wrote Kylin Jordan, owner of Employ Acadiana: “We are at risk of losing an essential resource if we do not stop the Library Board of control. They are slowly chopping away at the heart of our community piece by piece. It will soon be reduced to nothing if people remain quiet.”

Voters also gave a resounding thumbs down to current legislative efforts to how libraries and library boards operate. The latest is from Rep. Josh Carlson, R-Lafayette, that would allow libraries to hire directors who do not have a master’s degree in library science from an institution accredited by the American Library Association.

State Sen. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, tacked on an amendment to the bill that would allow governing bodies that appoint library boards of control to remove members of the board without cause.

In St. Tammany Parish, the parish council replaced three library board members who fought efforts to remove books with LGBTQ content. Those board members have sued.

About 2 out of every 3 Power Poll voters were against those and other efforts, with 45% indicating they go way too far. Less than 20% were in support.

When asked how concerned they are about any age-inappropriate material in libraries in Lafayette Parish -- or any other parish – 64% indicated they were not concerned at all, 22% were somewhat concerned and 12% were very concerned.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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