School Librarian of the Year Amanda Jones Fights Back Against Online Attacks

The Louisiana librarian is taking her harassers to court. 

Amanda Jones is fighting back.

On July 19, the 2021 School Librarian of the Year spoke at the Livingston Parish (LA) Library board meeting in opposition to censorship and book banning. She attended the meeting as a private citizen and was one of many residents to speak in support of access and free speech.

Soon after the meeting, however, the right-wing organization Citizens for a New Louisiana and others found out she was a school librarian, and the personal attacks began. A Facebook post accused her of fighting to keep “sexually erotic and pornographic” materials in the library’s children’s section, and a meme accused Jones of advocating teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds. Negative comments joined the attacks and inflamed an already volatile situation.

Jones says the online harassment after the meeting was frightening, upsetting, and humiliating. She cried for a week. Even though she knew she had done nothing wrong, she spent the weeks between the meeting and her first day of school in mid-August inside her house, so she wouldn’t see members of her community.

But the attacks also made her furious. She wanted to take a stand and has filed a lawsuit and is taking her harassers to court.

“I'm just sick of it,” she says. “I'm so angry. And I'm so tired. I'm tired as a librarian, seeing librarians getting harassed for doing their jobs. But I'm also tired, as an educator, of this attitude that people in the public think they can just write whatever they want online and completely defame someone with no consequences. I've had it.”

Jones believes these people chose to attack her, and not anyone else who spoke against censorship at the meeting, because they thought if they could shut her up, everyone else would be afraid to speak up in the future. She is suing Citizens for a New Louisiana executive director Michael Lunsford, as well as Ryan Thames who runs the Bayou State of Mind Facebook page and created the meme.

She is trying to stop both men from posting more about her and plans to take them to civil court for defamation. While librarians across the country are being attacked and harassed, Jones took the unusual step of going to an attorney. Patrick Sweeney, political director of EveryLibrary, is not a lawyer and doesn't know if Jones will win her case but calls these attacks on librarians "unprecedented" and says something must be done.

“There needs to be some mechanism to push back against the defamation and slander that is happening towards librarians, especially around calling them groomers and pedophiles and other things,” says Sweeney. “I'm not sure what other vehicle it would be to stop these outright lies against professional librarians."

Will Creeley, legal director of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) says the courts are an important option.

"Every case is going to be a little bit different, but speaking, speaking broadly, if someone is being physically threatened, that's absolutely a case for law enforcement," he says. "If someone is being doxxed, and being told that they're a groomer, or that they've sexually abused children by virtue of their work? Well, you know, as a First Amendment advocate, we think defamation has a very high bar—and it's a good reason that it does but defamation is also a real thing and legal recourse might be available there. The power of the law is important."

Jones realized she was in a unique position to fight back publicly and in court.

“I have a platform, having won School Librarian of the Year and Louisiana School Librarian of the Year,” says Jones, who is also president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. “I’m white and I’m straight. And the books that are always being censored or attempting to be censored usually fall around marginalized authors. I have a position of privilege in that.”

Read: SLJ's censorship coverage

She notes her supportive district administrators and family, as well as her large professional learning network, along with another key element—having the resources, thanks in part to a GoFundMe campaign. “I have the funds to do it because of the GoFundMe,” she says. “If not me, who else?”

Still, it was scary. Especially reading the Facebook comments under the vitriolic posts.

“They'll say, ‘She needs to be purged.’ ‘I'm gonna slap her silly.’ ‘We're coming up to her school…’.

The Sherriff’s department told her the attackers were just “keyboard warriors.” But Jones worries about that one person who may be moved to act beyond their computer and show up at her home or school.

“I work with kids,” she says. “I’m petrified of that.”

Despite that fear, after talking it over with her family, including her 15-year-old daughter, Jones went forward with the court filing and is ready for a long fight. She should find out if the men will be ordered to stop posting relatively soon. But Jones’s attorney told her that the defamation suit could take years.

“They're very well organized, and they're very well-funded,” Jones says of the Citizens for a New Louisiana. But she is in it for the long haul. “I don't care if it takes me 10 years. And even if I lose, at least I tried.”

Advice for her peers

When asked what advice she had for other librarians facing similar situations, Jones says, “Take care of yourself first. You and your family are most important.”

She advises school librarians to “scrub” their social media and websites of anything that identifies the school where they work and “lock everything down so that people can’t see their personal information.”

After that, librarians need to get in touch with the people who can offer support and assistance. she contacted 20 or 30 of her closest librarian friends and colleagues. Buoyed by their support and advice, she contacted the FReadom Fighters in Texas, EveryLibrary, and PEN America.

“You have to reach out to the organizations that are going to help you,” she says.

Sweeney says school or public librarians should reach out to EveryLibrary for pro bono support, including strategizing the best tactics, training local activists, pointing librarians in the direction of legal support, and speaking out for them when they can’t.

“If there are things that need to be said in the community that librarians can't say, they can come to EveryLibrary, because we're a lot freer to say those things,” Sweeney says. “We also have the resources to say things much more loudly than they can. We can reach a lot more people. We can talk through some strategies. We can talk through some tools and tactics. We can spend money on helping to fight back.”

Jones found strength from her professional learning network, as well. She has heard from more than 200 librarians offering support, she says, and many have told her that it has happened to them too.

“You have to reach out to the organizations that are going to help you, and you have to reach out to the professional learning network to get support,” she says. “Just reach out and know that you're not alone.”

Jones has heard from more than 200 librarians offering support, she says, and many have told her that it has happened to them too.

“You don't realize how prevalent it is right now, because a lot of people don't talk about it,” Jones says. “It's scary, and they're embarrassed, and they just want it to go away.”

That silence plays into the hands of the harassers, Jones says.

“That’s what they’re counting on.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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