Texas Library Association launches group to fight book bans

Texas Library Association president-elect Mary Woodard speaks at a press conference for Texans for the Right to Read, an advocacy group opposed to book bans.

Texas Library Association president-elect Mary Woodard speaks at a press conference for Texans for the Right to Read, an advocacy group opposed to book bans.

With the creation of an advocacy group to oppose statewide book bans, the Texas Library Association is sending a message: the loudest voices don’t represent everyone.

Politicians’ cries about ‘inappropriate’ reading material belies the fact that ‘there are millions of Texans who want to support these rights,’ TLA president-elect Mary Woodard told conference press release Tuesday at the TLA’s annual conference.

TLA launched Texans for the Right to Read in March in response to recent increases in book bans at Texas libraries. It aims to involve opponents of the movement at the community level, where decisions about censorship are made.

Between July 2021 and March 2022, 1,586 books were banned in 86 school districts in 26 states, according to a recent report by free speech organization PEN America.

Texas leads the list with 713 book bans in 16 school districts, including Granbury, where three books were pulled from shelves and its review of the material prompted the ACLU of Texas to intervene.

Politicians have taken notice and are drawing attention to the issue “to win an election,” said TLA executive director Shirley Robinson.

“It’s easy to see that this is an election year ploy designed to sow mistrust between parents and educators and divide our state based on party affiliation and ideology” , Robinson said.

In October 2021, State Representative Matt Krause of Fort Worth wrote a letter to the Texas Education Agency, asking districts to investigate the presence of more than 850 books in school libraries. Krause, a Republican, is running for Tarrant County District Attorney.

A Dallas Morning News analysis found that of the top 100 titles listed, 97 were written by women, people of color and LGBTQ authors.

Days after Krause’s letter, Gov. Greg Abbott penned his own missive outlining the responsibility of the Texas Association of School Boards to ensure students are not “exposed to pornography” in Texas public schools.

“Each of our schools should have an appropriate and transparent process for checking library materials before they are used,” he wrote.

Procedures for proper book selection already exist, Woodard said. The processes in place provide parents with appropriate opportunities to exercise control over the content their children read, but should not allow parents to control what other children read.

“For those who say Texans for the Right to Read and TLA want to take parents out of that equation, let me be clear, you’re 100% wrong,” said TLA President Daniel Burgard.

Collections of books of high literary and artistic value are carefully curated by experienced and educated Texas librarians, Woodard noted.

The book banning movement, she said, “is an all-out attack on them.”

A Wyoming county prosecutor considered criminal charges against library workers for stockpiling books such as “This Book is Gay.” Although charges have not been brought, the possibility of prosecution has a chilling effect, lawyers say.

“It’s a scary tactic to keep us from doing our job,” said Roosevelt Weeks, Austin Public Library.

This pushes librarians to self-censor in their book selection. “Shadow banning,” or removing books deemed controversial from display, is also becoming more widespread, Robinson said.

In addition to the harm that book bans pose to librarians, the censorship of titles that discuss race, sexuality and gender identity allows children to feel seen.

By specifically banning these works, “you’re telling a generation of people, you don’t matter,” Weeks said.

Jess Hardin covers growth and development. After graduating from Georgetown University, she earned a Fulbright scholarship to Georgia (the country) and served a brief stint in federal service in whistleblower protection. Jess arrives in Fort Worth after helping launch digital news startup Mahoning Matters following the closure of The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio. Send tips to [email protected] or via Twitter to @jesslhardin.

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