Not Just Schools: The Push to Ban Certain Books Has Moved to Texas Public Libraries

Photo by Devon Divine on Unsplash
Library books have become a hot topic in Texas.
Standing before the podium with a young child on her hip, Irving’s Flory Malloy took aim at the public library. It was Oct. 14, and the mom of seven, who has a doctorate in biblical studies, appeared before the city council to complain, in part, about an LGBTQIA+ book that some parents wanted removed from shelves.

It seemed to Malloy that the library's book review process was stacked against parents. She warned that if it continued down the same path, the library would degenerate into an "irrelevant institution."

Soon, she said, parents would take their kids elsewhere. “It’s already happening,” Malloy told the room. “Luckily, not every library in the area is quite so ideologically driven as Irving’s own has become.”

Last week, The Texas Tribune reported that public libraries in cities like Irving, Tyler and Victoria are experiencing a wave of book challenges from upset residents. Commissioners in Llano County, roughly 80 miles northwest of Austin, recently tasked local librarians with combing through every children’s book to ensure it’s “age appropriate.”

In recent months, Texas Republican lawmakers have moved to ban certain books from public school library shelves. Now, some say the furor has begun to envelop city libraries as well.

In October, Fort Worth state Rep. Matt Krause flagged 850 books that he feared could make Texas students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex." The following month, Gov. Greg Abbott directed Texas education officials to weed out pornographic materials from public schools. (Librarians adamantly deny they supply smut.)

“Texas children being exposed to pornographic material in our public schools is appalling,” Abbott said in a Nov. 10 tweet. “We will ensure no Texas student is exposed to pornography.”
In recent months, some Texas parents have petitioned librarians to adopt a more stringent selection process; certain books, they say, shouldn’t be seen by young eyes. But now, some librarians are sounding the alarm about what they see as a potential surge in state-sanctioned censorship.

Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Library Association, said book challenges are happening in both Texas public schools and libraries. In some cases, certain books are removed outright, without due process.

In addition to books, public libraries provide community services, such as internet access, social hubs and healthcare needs, Robinson said. A disruption in those services — as parts of the state have already experienced — means that some people will “fall through the cracks.”

“We are seeing overreach beyond the normal operations of public and school libraries by entities who seem to be pursuing a narrative designed to question the professional expertise of librarians and administrators and create mistrust to promote an agenda,” Robinson said. “This is an affront to democracy.”

"A library’s mission is to provide access to information for all users.” – Director Jo Giudice, Dallas Public Library

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Librarians are experts at choosing materials to meet the needs of all community members, Robinson said. It’s important to remember that what is deemed appropriate for one community may not be for others.

Still, Dallas Public Library hasn’t had any book challenges in 2021 and only saw one in 2020, said Director Jo Giudice. Even though the library has a procedure in place for such a review, it happens infrequently.

Regardless, any type of censorship concerns Giudice. All library patrons have the right to read, view, borrow and listen to library materials, she said. Parents and caregivers, meanwhile, are the ones responsible for keeping track of what their kids read.

The trend to ban certain children’s books from library shelves is already happening in smaller public library systems, she added. The freedom to read and access information serves as librarians' guiding principle.

"Libraries have diverse collections with resources from many points of view, and a library’s mission is to provide access to information for all users," Giudice said. "I believe our robust collection development policy is our best defense when these challenges arise as well as living in a city that values diversity and equity.”

While libraries are under fire in Texas, the American Library Association (ALA) has also witnessed a “dramatic uptick” in book challenges and removals nationwide. In a statement, the ALA wrote that some have attempted to silence marginalized voices through intimidation and threats to library workers’ safety and livelihoods.

The organization’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has seen a recent spike in challenges. Since June, it's counted 155 “unique censorship incidents,” and OIF has provided consultation and support for 120.

“We’re seeing an unprecedented volume of challenges in the fall of 2021,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, OIF's director. “In my twenty years with ALA, I can’t recall a time when we had multiple challenges coming in on a daily basis.”