Livingston Parish library director, councilman spar over access to library content

LIVINGSTON, La. — The director of the Livingston Parish Library is taking aim at a parish councilman’s attempt to test the library’s content filtering system calling it a “willful violation” of policy.

Councilman Gary Talbert told fellow councilmembers at the February 9 council meeting that he hired Lucas Investigations, a private investigative firm based out of Baton Rouge, to test the ease of access to inappropriate content on library computers.

Livingston Parish Library Director Giovanni Tairov (left) and Livingston Parish Councilman Gary Talbert (right)

Willful violation?

Talbert said the private investigator went to the Denham Springs-Walker library branch on January 21. The P.I. purchased a library guest pass, Talbert said, and was able to view pornographic websites.

Library director Giovanni Tairov said in a public letter about the incident that the library’s content filtering system blocked the initial attempts, but that the investigator found a “backdoor to break through the library’s firewall and view inappropriate content.”

Tairov says Talbert’s actions are a violation of library Board of Control policy 3-328.

“The library’s electronic access policy is displayed to every patrol that accesses a computer and must be accepted before usage can begin,” Tairov said in the letter. “Specifically, the policy prohibits the sending, receiving or viewing of pornographic material.”

Parish libraries use an advanced two-tiered threat protection and content filtering system, Tairov said.

“However, we recognize that no technology solution of this kind is infallible,” Tairov explained.

Talbert says that the investigator he hired, who was reportedly wearing a body camera during his library visit, did not use a backdoor to access explicit material.

“He used Reddit, Twitter, TikTok and DuckDuckGo,” Talbert said in his Facebook post. “Any teenager, or adult, could use the same means with no sophistication. I understand the library director is frustrated that we exposed a fault in his system. Parents deserve to know. I won’t back down, and I won’t apologize.”

Talbert has not released his P.I.’s full report, and the body camera video of the visit has not yet been released.

“Our library director seems more concerned about how porn was accessed on library computers than the fact that it’s readily available to our children,” Talbert said.

Library changes

Livingston Parish Library Director Giovanni Tairov answers questions from the Livingston Parish Council at a meeting on February 9 (From: Livingston Parish Council YouTube)

Director Tairov told the parish council that his office has always had a system in place that allows every parent to set access controls for their child’s account. He went on to layout changes that were put in place in January, that would tighten some of those controls.

Tairov told councilmembers that some 27-thousand teen and children library accounts have been blocked from checking out certain library materials until parents/legal guardians set those permissions.

“It is extremely difficult for us to make decisions on behalf of parents because we don’t want to infringe on somebody’s right to allow their children to access what they deem is appropriate,” said Tairov.

Since the new policy was introduced, nearly 300 parents have set those permissions, Tairov told the council.

“I’m not denying the library has taken some steps to solve some issues, but there’s more work to be done,” Talbert said.

Talbert introduced a resolution that was passed by the council calling for more changes to the parish library system. Specifically, he is calling for children and young adult sections of the library to be evaluated and for content not deemed appropriate by “community standards” to be removed.

The council resolution is also calling for the library to investigate how they can use LA Wallet, the state’s digital driver’s license app, to be used to prove age to block online access to adult material.

In addition, the resolution calls for the library to automatically block adult content on all new library cards for children under 17 until permissions are set by parents/guardians.

“Livingston Parish can be a leader with our library,” Talbert said. “We have a great library system. Let’s resolve some of the issues that don’t reflect our community standards.

“This is not about banning books. I’m not in favor of banning books, and I don’t think the library is about banning books or censoring content. This is about protecting our children.”

Battle over books

In September 2022, the Livingston parish Board of Control opted to maintain its current policies on challenging books despite a letter from Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks asking to remove certain books from the children’s section to the adult section of parish libraries.

“The age of consent in Louisiana is 17. The legal drinking age is 21. That is important because it is evidence that our society believes young people below a certain age must be protected,” Ricks said. “They are too young to make certain decisions because the wrong decision could be very harmful.”

The argument over restricting access to certain books began at the library board meeting July 19th when member Erin Sandefur brought an item titled “book content” to the agenda.

During that meeting, Sandefur had a list of eight books to consider restricting access to, with content including a preschool-level picture book about transgender identities and a dating guide for teenage boys with a sexually explicit illustration.

Tairov says that since he became director in 2010, only five requests for consideration, the process that allows patrons to have the library reconsider where content is located, have been made. Two of those requests were made in 2022, which resulted in one piece of content being moved.

READ MORE: Library board sticks with policy despite parish president’s letter

Censorship or protecting children?

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry says changes to the state’s public libraries can prevent children’s access to certain books and materials.

Landry is critical of materials available to children at libraries in his “Protecting Innocence” report released Tuesday. The attorney general specifically targeted sexual content that he says is too easy for children to access.

“I believe we must protect the innocence of Louisiana’s children, and that is why my office and I have put together this guide in response to parents and guardians around our state who are deeply concerned,” Landry said laying out his report.

The report identifies nine books Landry says “contains examples of sexually explicit materials.” The report includes exerts and illustrations from books that Landry believes are inappropriate for children.

READ MORE: Louisiana AG calls for changes to public libraries in new report

New Bills Proposed

Two state lawmakers joined Landry Tuesday announcing they are filing bills that would put controls on library cards for minors. Landry is calling on libraries to adopt and implement policies that remove sexually explicit materials intended for children.

Landry wants the library card system altered so that parents can choose whether their child can check-out explicit materials. The system would block children from checking out some materials from libraries.

“I believe that libraries should house a variety of diverse and inclusive viewpoints – not only because we are all unique individuals, but also because we must face unique problems,” Landry said in the report. “At the same time, children and teenagers do not have the emotional maturity of adults and may be unprepared to experience certain aspects of our world.”

Landy says that many libraries lack adequate policies addressing the access of minors to sexually explicit materials. One of the bills proposed would require libraries to adopt and implement policy language. The language would limit access to sexually explicit materials to minors.

Landry’s report includes resources for parents who are concerned about material in their own libraries. Some of the resources are sample letters to various library control agencies. He also included links to current library policy for each parish.

Letter from Livingston Parish Library Director Giovanni Tairov addressing Councilman Talbert’s test of the library system’s content filtering system

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