The board that oversees public libraries in St. Tammany Parish voted Monday to return four challenged books to their shelves after a months-long stay behind the circulation desk.
The books in question, "Milk and Honey," "Pink, Blue, and You!," "Sex is a Funny Word," and "Who Has What" were the latest up for review by the St. Tammany Library Board of Control from a list of over 150 titles challenged by some residents who claim the material promotes LGBTQ+ themes and also violates state obscenity statutes.
Options available to the board were to leave the books shelved behind the circulation desk, return them to their original location, move them to an area for older age groups, or remove them from the library altogether. The books kept behind the circulation desks could still be checked out on request.
All four items had been challenged by Connie Phillips and the St. Tammany Accountability Project, a group that has submitted most of the written complaints against books in the parish's public libraries over the last year.
Community members on both sides of what has become largely an issue over censorship were on hand Monday to voice their opinions.
Some said that pulling titles from shelves and making them available by request only is harmful to free speech.
Others believe the challenged books should remain behind the circulation desk or moved to an area that's inaccessible to children.
Audience member Hilary Alvarado said some of the challenged books open the opportunity for “groomers to take people and abuse them,” he said referencing "Milk and Honey."
"Milk and Honey" by Rupi Kaur, a collection of poetry about the experience of violence, abuse, love, and survival, according to its publisher, was shelved in the adult non-fiction section before it was pulled for review.
“This type of literature is nothing but trash. If adults want to read this that’s fine, but my tax dollars should not be paying for this,” another resident, Fran Smith, wrote in a complaint against "Milk and Honey" on behalf of the Accountability Project.
Those in support of the book reiterated it was not accessible to minors and that its subject matter is unlikely to pique a child’s interest.
Jake Airey, a Library Board member who is also on the St. Tammany Parish Council, said the book should be returned to its original location in the adult section.
“I think when kids are that young and the book’s appropriately shelved, then that’s where the line of parental responsibility comes in,” he said.
The other three books housed in the juvenile section contained similarly themed content surrounding human biology and self-acceptance. Newly appointed board member, Bill McHugh said one of the books, "Pink, Blue, and You," is about “being who you want to be,” a message he said he’s shared with his own daughter since she was young.