The parish Dinapolis calls home has been embroiled in a culture war as citizens fight about what types of books and other content belonged in their public libraries.
Dinapolis took her heartfelt concern to her neighbors by having a billboard designed and posted on the North Causeway Approach near the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. "Support Your Local Library," it read.
Who wouldn't support libraries? In St. Tammany Parish, a lot of folks, apparently.
Perhaps it was the design that upset so many of Dinapolis' fellow citizens: rainbow stripes from the gay pride flag; pink and light blue from the transgender flag; and representing people of color, black.
Within days, the billboard company received so many complaints that it decided the blowback wasn't worth the $6,600 Dinapolis had paid to post her message for six months.
The company took down Dinapolis' message and reimbursed her.
Dinapolis told me she appreciated the reimbursement. She even said she understood when the company explained its decision to take down her message.
It's likely that people who agree with the St. Tammany Parish Library Accountability Group were among those who complained enough to get the Dinapolis billboard taken down. Or maybe it had something to do with their own billboard message, posted not far away on U.S. 190 near the Bogue Falaya bridge:
"Sexually Explicit Books/St. Tammany Parish Library" — and below that, "Parish Council: Fix it or we'll vote you out."
Ouch. Pretty strong threat.
I'm sure that's what Connie Phillips, one of the leaders of the library accountability group, and others who agree with her intended.
But Dinapolis didn't give in. Rather than back down, she put her money where her heart is. Again.
On Monday, a digital billboard with the same "Support Your Local Library" message went up near downtown Covington.
Dinapolis is so determined that her parish neighbors be considerate — and tolerant — of others amid the parish's intensifying culture war that she paid more for the new billboard than she paid for the one that was removed. She paid $1,100 a month for the first one and $1,850 a month to have drivers-by see the new one for two months.
The St. Tammany Library Control Board has recently decided on some contentious issues involving challenges to the library system's content. Chief among the accountability project's targets were four children's picture books and "The Bluest Eye" by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. The group claimed the library system had made obscene content and pornography readily available to children.
Amid some diverse opinions — and some split votes — the board decided that that was ridiculous.
Like most libraries, the St. Tammany Library System has patrons who appreciate diverse content and respect other people's perspectives, even if they don't share some of those other folks' ideas. Exposing ourselves to opposing views helps us learn — and grow.
Some people like nonfiction. Some prefer fiction. Some love audiobooks. Some just want to escape the here-and-now. Some hope to be challenged by authors with whom they know they disagree. Still others choose the path of self-discovery.
Dinapolis wants them all to have options.
She has a librarian friend who is the main reason she has continued her diplomatic billboard campaign. While the other side posts venomous, politically threatening messages, Dinapolis responds with positivity and inclusivity.
I hope Dinapolis and those who support her and her librarian friend will continue to stand up for libraries, librarians and all manner of books — and all manner of people.
Meanwhile, I'd like to respectfully suggest that those who seek "accountability" from librarians check out and actually read some of the books they think are so dangerous.
True, they may find some of what they read to be discomforting or even offensive. Perhaps they'll also remember that some of history's most influential writings, like the Declaration of Independence and Martin Luther King's letter from Birmingham jail, stirred controversy — and inspired a nation to grow.