Letters from readers on what matters in Lafayette.

LETTER: The Current got the story wrong on the threat to our libraries

We’d like to push back on the March 25 article published in The Current titled “An invasion of politics imperils Lafayette’s public libraries” and will start with the focus picture of Michael Lunsford talking to concerned citizens outside of the Feb. 9 Parish Council meeting. While Michael Lunsford is certainly at play on this library board and council, he holds no obligation to the public as do his friends who hold office. Not only is this story more about the elected and appointed officials who are obligated to serve the public, but the library staff that is now working under threat of furloughs, staffing shortages, reduction of hours, or even branch closures — all needlessly. In the effort to hold these public servants accountable, we must not forget it is the library staff and indeed citizens of the Lafayette area who are at a risk of losing vital resources.

While the author of the piece did mention the library system’s “financial crisis,” he seemed to avoid pointing out that the actions of the self-proclaimed “conservatives” mentioned in the article were by actors in the misinformation campaign that led to the library’s loss of funding. In other words, none of this would even be a problem but for a campaign of lies they participated in several years ago.

It was also disappointing to the Supporters of Lafayette Public Libraries’ administrative team that the determination seemed to be made unequivocally to absolve the actors involved of any wrongdoing concerning the Open Meetings Law violation. While it’s understandable that different lawyers will have different opinions on the matter, a case currently under investigation has yet to be determined, and our group has spoken to legal counsel that finds their actions violated law. At a bare minimum, there are certainly many members of the Lafayette community who feel the councilmen and new board members’ behavior was unethical.

Indeed “the politics have poisoned the atmosphere, and the library’s future hangs in the balance” is certainly accurate, but the comparison by library board member Landon Boudreaux that tries to frame Jean Menard as a political operative is easy to disprove, yet no attempt seems to have been made to do so. The Supporters group has gone to great lengths to make the facts known to the general public without any mention of partisan politics. In fact the group’s norms posted as an announcement specifically prevent such politically charged posts because it is the intent of the group to be welcoming to anyone who wants to support libraries. Just as our libraries are welcoming to all, the Supporters group seeks to provide the same level of openness and transparency.

Someone unfamiliar with the intricacies of the situation may be likely to believe a quote by Boudreaux who states “the library (was) shoveling one-sided information,” but that’s simply a statement with zero factual evidence to back it. The single issue these new board members bring up repeatedly as a justification for more control over the library, and the director they are responsible for appointing, is only one single program intended to promote acceptance that they disagreed with on the basis of their personal religious views. 

The library never had financial problems before Lunsford and his co-conspirators spread false information that defeated a millage renewal in 2018, then supported a re-dedication of millions from the library fund in 2019. The library never had an identity problem either until these bad actors made a children’s program into something it was not. Currently, the biggest detriment to the library system is the overstepping of boundaries by these new untrained and politically motivated board members.

No one owns the library’s identity; the library does not exist to serve the wishes or will of any one sector of the community. It does not matter to the library administration, nor should it, whether the community they serve seems to vote one way or the other. Libraries are for everyone; over the years the political and cultural environment of Lafayette has shifted, but public entities like libraries must continue to remain neutral ground in order to serve everyone effectively. 

Who would refer to a library program for children as sexual? Certainly not the library director or library staff involved in planning a storytime that was happening at libraries on an international scale, but rather a paid political operative who needed to get his followers fired up by utilizing scare tactics before an election. There never was any sexual connotation to the notion of someone dressing up and reading books to children; that accusation comes from a place of fearing differences which libraries in principle would never support. The American Library Association’s Bill of Rights states clearly that “libraries should challenge censorship.” Having people like Stephanie Armbruster and Robert Judge, who have supported censorship, now participating as members of the board is an insult to libraries everywhere.

As far as printing Boudreaux’s accusations that “the Supporters group is intent on promoting its own political profile,” that is also an easily disproved disingenuous statement. There are most certainly NOT “political operatives on both sides,” just as there were no both sides to the history of Black voting rights in America. Supporters’ group norms specifically prevent partisan posts; Jean Menard conveyed to the reporter her lack of political campaign interests, and has discouraged political discord in the group. As for trying to fault David Levy for any participation, he is far from being a political operative and merely one out of 1,400+ current members, as is City Council Member Liz Hebert. It was a far stretch to try and associate old political campaigns with this currently active group; any political ties or leanings of group members are completely inconsequential here since partisan politics are not now, nor have ever been allowed in the Supporters group. This isn’t liberal versus conservative; this is about truth versus lies and deceptive practices.

Parish Councilman Joshua Carlson trying to justify his partisan behavior while shouting about keeping the library apolitical and accusing employees of the library and the media of lying is just flat out laughable, as is his claim of wanting to keep “library programming properly balanced.” Five people who were significantly more qualified to sit on the library board were never even considered because of his partisan games and asking Michael Lunsford to vet candidates. It’s arguable that Carlson continues to do the easy thing here, but that doesn’t make it right; just because he can appoint the least qualified member to the library’s board to satisfy his political interests doesn’t mean he’s making the best choice for the library or the public he is tasked to serve. Librarians are trained for years to learn the ethics of setting programming for everyone, and they often possess master’s degrees in library science; to presume a registered voter and political associate would have a better hold on library programming is preposterous. At the end of the day, I hope the voters are paying attention to the games these elected officials are playing with public resources; after all, the continuing success of our libraries is what’s at stake here.

The group Supporters of Lafayette Public Libraries exists to: support millages to facilitate operations of the existing library system, expand services to currently under-served communities, make sure library board members are supporting the library in service of the community, and to ensure library trustees act in accordance with the Library Bill of Rights. Who could possibly find those goals political? Perhaps only those who have acted to censor programming, defeat library funding or try to bring personal religious and political views into public libraries.

Lafayette Public Libraries are award-winning treasures, thanks in no small part to the previous fiscally responsible director and LPL’s entire staff who’ve dedicated their careers in service to the public. We hope well-informed citizens will choose to support our libraries when the millage is up for renewal. These public assets should never be used as a political football. We must all continue to participate as active members of our communities in order to protect these places that bring such value to all of us.