Texas book challenges worry some librarians about their work, but this group is fighting back

Over the past few weeks, the retired Austin, Texas school librarian, along with three other library professionals, has spearheaded a grassroots effort known as #FReadom. Their goal is to fight the tide of book-related challenges in the state and create a space for school librarians to help each other.

“We wanted to state that we are here and that we are ready to speak up for our students, for the authors and for the books our students deserve to have access to,” Foote told CNN.

This year, parents and community members across Texas and even some state lawmakers have accused educators of exposing children to books containing pornography or other obscene content. A number of school officials have launched extensive reviews of their book collections and some have said the “library selection process has failed”. School librarians are at the center of this debate, and many fear losing their jobs or even face criminal charges.

“Some of the books that people worry about have to do with sexuality. We have (state) laws against providing pornography to minors (and) while that doesn’t happen, librarians fear being accused of this, “said Mary Woodard, president-elect of the Texas Library Association.

Books written for children and young adults face opposition across the country. In Pennsylvania, a school district banned anti-racist books and then decided to reverse its decision after student protests. Last month, a member of a Florida school board filed a criminal complaint over a black queer brief.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said there had been an “unprecedented” number of book challenges reported to her office this year.

As of June 1, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has tracked at least 155 incidents across the United States and has helped librarians navigate the review process or provided resources to 120 of those cases, according to the latest figures released by the group last month. When asked for an updated number of book challenges reported to ALA, Caldwell-Stone told CNN the group has and continues to receive new reports that his team have not been able to follow the entry of his data.

“It’s really disheartening how often we see censorship being used to silence the voices of people who are traditionally marginalized,” Caldwell-Stone said.

Shortly after Texas State Representative Matt Krause launched an investigation asking school officials to identify specific books on race or gender that could “put students on the wrong foot.” ease, ”Foote and a group of library professionals knew they couldn’t stay silent.

Krause, chairman of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, asked some school districts to report which books on a list of hundreds of titles belonged to schools and how much money they spent on acquiring those titles.

“It was so clearly aimed at LGBTQ students, it was so clearly aimed at race. I just don’t want students to feel like they’re inferior. That’s what brought me to this,” Foote said. .

The group began tweeting about the books on this list and others with the hashtag #FReadom, describing their positive impact on students. Soon, other librarians across the state joined the conversation and started reaching out to them asking for help with the challenges of books, Foote said.

A sign at a branch of the Austin Public Library encourages readers to check out young adult books recently targeted by Texas lawmakers.  Next to the sign there is a copy of
Days before the start of the #FReadom campaign, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on state school boards to remove books he called “pornography” and then asked officials for the state education to create new standards that would prevent access to “pornographic” and “obscene” content. public schools.

Neither Krause nor Governor Greg Abbott responded to requests for comment on the book’s controversy and their investigations into public school libraries.

In recent weeks, Foote said librarians have also noticed that their districts are not following their own school board policies after receiving a complaint about a book.

In most districts of the United States, council policy likely states that a parent who complains about a book is required to submit a document detailing the challenge, which is followed by the establishment of a reading committee. the entire book and make a recommendation, says Foote. .

The book usually stays on the library shelves until a decision is made, Foote says, but lately several school districts have removed books from the shelves before the review process is complete.

Officials at the Katy Independent School District, just outside of Houston, recently pulled five books from school library shelves because of their “ubiquitous vulgar” content. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Ken Gregorski said the books had been identified and removed following an internal review process.

Maria DiPetta, spokesperson for the district, told CNN that the books that have been deleted are “The Nerdy and the Dirty,” by BT Gottfred, “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)” by LC Rosen, “Forever for a Year “by BT Gottfred,” Me and Earl and the Dying Girl “by Jesse Andrews and” Lawn Boy “by Jonathan Evison.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Ken Gregorski said the district had previously relied on recommendations from school library journals to filter book options each year, but administrators now realize the process has failed.

Although the district has not explained how it decided to remove the books, it has since launched an online portal to allow parents to report library books that they may consider “ubiquitous vulgar.” The District describes the term as “content deemed obscene or profane and widespread everywhere.”

“School librarians are not going into this business to harm children”

Woodard, the president-elect of the Texas Library Association, said the current debate over books available in school libraries has upset librarians and made it seem like their work is in jeopardy.

Mary Woodard, president of the Texas Library Association, and her team launched an anonymous hotline in December 2021 to offer support to school librarians facing reading problems in Texas.

In response to the growing number of challenges with books, the group recently opened an anonymous hotline for librarians seeking support.

“School librarians are not going into this business to harm children,” said Woodard. “They work really, really hard to select books that represent everyone on their campus.”

Becky Calzada, Leander School District Library Coordinator, worked alongside Foote to raise awareness of book challenges with the #FReadom campaign. Growing up in South Texas, Calzada says she didn’t see herself portrayed in the books as a young girl.

“I grew up reading ‘The Swan’s Trumpet’ and ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ I mean there weren’t any Hispanic girls,” Calzada said. “This is a disservice to the children and so we work very hard as librarians to make sure the children have books they can see themselves in.”

Now Calzada and Foote have said they never imagined the mission would demonize them or other librarians.

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