Get Up, Stand Up: Taking the fight to abusers, Amanda Jones wields power. She is not alone. | Editor's Note

“If not me, who else?” Given the abuse Amanda Jones suffered—she was publicly accused of promoting pornographic materials in the library’s children’s section—“Why me?” might have been more like it. Instead, the school librarian took measure.

“If not me, who else?”

That’s one of the most remarkable takeaways of Amanda Jones’s story. Jones, 2021 School Librarian of the Year, spoke to Kara Yorio about her decision to take legal action against two men who harassed her after she spoke against censorship at a meeting of the Livingston Parish (LA) Library board in July (See "School Librarian of the Year Amanda Fights Back Against Online Attacks").

Given the abuse Jones suffered—she was publicly accused of promoting pornographic materials in the library’s children’s section—“Why me?” might have been more like it. Instead, Jones took measure. An unwavering dedication to fostering empathetic young readers and the free access to information is a powerful thing. Combine that with her leadership in the field and a heap of goodwill well-earned in the community.

“I’m white and I’m straight,” adds Jones. “And the books that are being censored or attempting to be censored usually fall around marginalized authors. I have a position of privilege in that.” Then she ­assumed personal responsibility to act.

“If not me…”

Jones also sought help, posting on #­LibraryTwitter. People responded, helping spread the word about Jones’s plight and a GoFundMe to support her legal expenses, which has raised $94,000 as of press time.

When it comes to fighting online abuse, there are few options, says Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal. The law protects speech, as long as it’s not defamatory, exposing one “to public hate, contempt, or ridicule. You can’t incite people to violence.” Absent prior restraint, “someone has to file a lawsuit to get [harassers] to stop.”

Jones did just that, suing for defamation in August and seeking a restraining order to bar Michael Lunsford; his group, Citizens for a New Louisiana; and Ryan Thames from speaking about her in public. Thames’s Facebook page, “Bayou State of Mind,” posted Jones’s photo along with a claim that she was “advocating teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds,” ­reported NBC News.

Following suit

Organizations are available to help, says Skeen. Lambda’s helpdesk is staffed by attorneys, who can provide information and resources by state. Librarians suffering harassment should seek legal counsel in their own capacity, says Skeen. “There are attorneys willing to do this pro bono.” They should lock down their ­social media, as Jones did, and alert their district.

“I know what this looks like,” Jonathan ­Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education program at PEN America, told me. He’s tracked the targeting of professors over efforts to restrict ­teaching around race and racism in higher ed. “Of course this is the year where we’ve seen those tactics shift to teachers and librarians.”
In response, PEN is creating a librarians’ tip sheet on how to manage online harassment. There’s also guidance if you are a witness or an ally (pen.org).

Meanwhile, Lambda has challenged Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law in court. The federal lawsuit filed July 25 argues that the law, which bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K–3 and restricts such discussions through grade 12, effectively silences and erases LGBTQIA+ students and families, according to a release.

“The First Amendment protects a student’s right to receive information and ideas,” reads the ­complaint. “A student’s Constitutional right to receive information is violated when library materials are removed or curriculum or classroom instruction are curtailed for a purpose not reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical concern.”

The lesson here: “Just reach out and know that you’re not alone,” as Jones says.

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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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