Carolyn Foote was shocked and outraged when Republican lawmakers targeted hundreds of books about race, equality, and sexuality in Texas school libraries. She and other librarians had worked hard to make their collections more representative of the increasingly diverse community, and their efforts were now under threat.
The retired school librarian in Austin, Texas, has been spearheading a grassroots effort known as #FReadom for several weeks, along with three other library professionals. Their goal is to combat the state’s wave of book challenges and to create a space for school librarians to help one another.
This year, parents, community members, and even some state legislators in Texas have accused educators of exposing children to books with pornography or other obscene content. Several school officials have launched in-depth reviews of their book collections, and some have stated that the process of “making library selections has failed.” School librarians are at the center of this controversy, and many are concerned that they will lose their jobs or face criminal charges.
“Some of the books that are causing concern are about sexuality. We have (state) laws prohibiting the provision of pornography to minors, and while this does not occur, librarians are concerned that they will be accused of doing so “said Mary Woodard, the Texas Library Association’s incoming president.
Across the country, books for children and young adults are facing opposition. In Pennsylvania, a school district banned anti-racism books but later reversed its decision in response to student protests. A Florida school board member filed a criminal complaint last month in response to a Black queer memoir.
This year has seen a “unprecedented” number of book challenges reported to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, according to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the organization’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
According to the most recent figures released by the ALA last month, the Office for Intellectual Freedom has tracked at least 155 incidents across the US since June 1 and has assisted librarians in navigating the reconsideration process or providing resources in 120 of those cases. When asked for an update on the number of book challenges reported to the ALA, Caldwell-Stone told reporters that the organization has received and continues to receive new reports, and that her team hasn’t been able to keep up with data entry.
“It’s really disheartening to see how frequently censorship is used to silence the voices of people who have historically been marginalized,” Caldwell-Stone said. Foote and a group of library professionals knew they couldn’t remain silent after Texas State Rep. Matt Krause launched an inquiry requesting that school officials identify specific books about race or sex that might “make students feel uncomfortable.”
Krause, the chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, asked some school districts to report which books from a list of hundreds of titles they owned and how much money they spent on acquiring those books.
“It was clearly aimed at LGBTQ students, as well as students of color. I just don’t want students to feel like they’re second-class citizens. That’s what drew me here,” Foote stated.
With the hashtag #FReadom, the group began tweeting about the books on that list and others, describing their positive impact on students. Other librarians in the state soon joined the conversation and began reaching out to them for assistance with book challenges, according to Foote.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on the state’s school boards to remove books he called “pornography,” and later directed state education officials to create new standards to keep “pornography” and “obscene” content out of public schools.
Krause and Gov. Greg Abbott did not respond to requests for comment on the book challenges controversy or their investigations into public school libraries.
Foote claims that in recent weeks, librarians have noticed that their districts are not following their own school board policies after receiving a complaint about a book. In most districts around the US, board policy likely states that a parent complaining about a book is required to submit a document detailing the challenge, which is followed by the creation of a committee tasked to read the entire book and make a recommendation, Foote says.