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The Fight Against Book Banning in America

Olivia Empson, The US librarian who sued book ban harassers: ‘I decided to fight back’, The Guardian, 2 June 2024

After Amanda Jones got death threats for speaking out against censorship, she sued her attackers and wrote a memoir.

Amanda Jones’ debut memoir is That Librarian: The Fight Against Book Banning in America. Photograph: Bloomsbury Publishing.

A librarian in Louisiana – one of the first in the US to file a lawsuit for defamation against her detractors – is speaking out about the fight she’s been part of as censorship and books bans escalate around the country.

Amanda Jones vividly remembers the time she received her first death threat. Hate, online bullying or photos sent to her house circling her face with red Biro like a target had been unsettling, but not uncommon. This was different.

Jones lost 50 pounds, took medical leave from work and watched in disbelief as chunks of her hair started to fall out. Knowing something had to change in the spring of 2023, she filed a lawsuit and wrote her book.

That Librarian: The Fight Against Book Banning in America is Jones’s debut memoir, which will be released later this summer. It tells the story of her fight against censorship in the small town she was raised in and of the rise in attacks on librarians and intellectual freedom across the US.

“I cried a lot, then decided to fight back,” Jones said. “I hope librarians can read my book and feel like they’re not alone.”

Jones’s story made international headlines when she became one of the first librarians in the US to file a lawsuit for defamation against those who launched personal attacks on her after she spoke out at a public library board meeting. In July of 2022, when book banning started affecting Livingston parish, where she lived and worked, Jones made a speech against literary censorship at her local public library board. A targeted attacks began shortly thereafter.

“One man posted a picture of me online asking parents how they’d feel if I was giving their kids pornography,” Jones said. “Another made a meme saying I advocate teaching 11-year-olds about anal sex.”

The two men behind these posts and attacks, Michael Lunsford and Ryan Thames, were the focus of the ensuing legal battle.

“All I did was give a delicate speech on censorship,” she said. “They started posting pages from books I didn’t reference, hadn’t heard of. Awful things spread like wildfire about me around my community.”

Across the country, book banning has been rising at an alarming rate. PEN America documented more than 10,000 bans between 2021 and 2023. Increasingly, school districts or local libraries and their workers are becoming the target of conservative activists and parents.

The individuals leveling these bans demand that books with sexual references, themesor discussions of racial conflict be removed from school or public shelves. Frequently, they single out authors of color or those who identify as LGBTQ+.

True power, though, is the ability to live rent-free in someone else’s head when you don’t think about them at all.
Amanda Jones

Conservative activists continually refer to the people who defend books as “groomers”, using rhetoric like “pedophiles” and “child molesters” in their public outcries. Saving the children has become an unfounded, underlying justification for this wave of attacks, which are not just aimed at school librarians but drag storytellers, liberal politicians and authors across the country.

The Proud Boys, a regularly violent US extremist group, have been known to attack or protest outside LGBTQ+ themed events at multiple libraries, with instances happening in San Lorenzo, California and New York City.

Often, librarians are caught in the middle of these campaigns or hostilities and left to defend their institutions in highly volatile situations. Suzette Baker lost her job as a librarian in Llano county, Texas, in 2022 after she refused to put a copy of Critical Race Theory behind the counter. It’s not just harassment or social media shaming at stake for people in this profession; their jobs and livelihoods are increasingly being put on the line.

While Jones was able to turn her situation around and make a success of her experience with the upcoming book, the journey wasn’t easy. Hate still lingers in the community she grew up in and lives in, and she’s lost friends and acquaintances over the rumors that were spread about her.

“One of the chapters is a play on Michelle Obama’s quote: when they go low, you go high,” Jones concluded.

“When I wrote my story, I tried to go high. I hope that no one harasses the men who harassed me. I just wanted to be honest, truthful, diplomatic.”

That Librarian: The Fight Against Book Banning in America will be published on 27 August.