[September 19 update: Yesterday, United States District Judge Alan D. Albright issued his written order enjoining the State of Texas from “applying, enforcing, or attempting to enforce” House Bill 900, a.k.a. the Texas book ban, a.k.a. the READER Act. As he states early in the injunction (which you can read in its entirety), “the Court finds that this law violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.” What happens next? I’ll be compiling news about that in a different digest.]
[August 31 update: In a very brief status conference on Zoom, Judge Albright stated that he will be issuing an injunction preventing the state of Texas from enforcing House Bill 900. He expects to issue the written order within the next week or two.]
[August 29 update: Several of us authors for young readers attended yesterday’s second hearing on House Bill 900 at the federal courthouse in Austin. Judge Albright expects to issue his ruling(s)—on the defendants’ request for dismissal, and on the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction—soon.]
[August 19 update: I attended yesterday’s hearing on the preliminary injunction of House Bill 900, and while the proceedings were quite encouraging for those of us opposed to the law, U.S. District Judge Alan Albright did not issue a ruling. He has scheduled another hearing for Monday, August 28.]
[August 12 update: A hearing on a preliminary injunction that would block House Bill 900 from taking effect is scheduled for next Friday in Austin.]
[July 23 update: The Texas Library Association offers several resources regarding House Bill 900, including a summary, key upcoming dates, and FAQs. “There is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty about how this new law will be implemented. The following information and resources will be updated as TLA receives clarification and information.”]
[Independence Day update: Via CNN, there’s national coverage about House Bill 900, a.k.a. the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act, a.k.a. the READER Act, which the law’s author says is “model legislation for the rest of the country.”]
[June 28 update: The Houston Chronicle has reported the first instance I’m aware of in which a Texas school district has halted the purchase of new library books as well as the distribution of already-purchased new books in response to House Bill 900.]
[June 13 update: Gov. Abbott signed House Bill 900 into law yesterday. Senate Bill 13 never made it through the House of Representatives.]
As someone who has spent time inside literally hundreds of school libraries in Texas and had the opportunity to talk with at least as many Texas school librarians about their work, I deeply value the professionalism of Texas school librarians as a whole. And I believe in their ability to meet the needs of their communities without interference from Texas state senators and state representatives.
There are a couple of pieces of legislation—House Bill 900 (HB 900) and Senate Bill 13 (SB 13)—making their way through the Texas Capitol during the current legislative session that would significantly restrict the way school libraries operate in Texas. I believe this legislation and the process that created it are profoundly disrespectful of that same professionalism and will harm those librarians’ ability to meet the needs of their communities.
For those not in the know but who want to learn how Texas students’ access to books will be affected, I’ve pulled together a few sources of information about HB 900 and SB 13 and will update this post as I come across more articles from reputable sources.
Now, on with the roundup:
“Texas Judge Hears Arguments Over Scope of HB 900 Injunction,” Publishers Weekly, September 12, 2023:
Saying a written opinion and order would be delivered this week, federal judge Alan D. Albright gave attorneys for the state of Texas a final chance to make their case for limiting his preliminary injunction blocking HB 900, the state’s controversial book rating law, on September 11. But during the 20-minute online hearing, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued forcefully that the judge should stick with his initial August 31 oral order blocking the law in its entirety.
“Federal judge bars Texas from enforcing book rating law,” The Texas Tribune, August 31, 2023:
A federal judge said Thursday he will stop a new Texas law aimed at keeping sexually explicit materials off of school library shelves on the eve of the law going into effect, according to state attorneys and lawyers for a group who sued over the proposal.
District Judge Alan D. Albright indicated during a hearing that he will grant a temporary injunction sought by a group of book groups and sellers, including two Texas bookstores, who sued the state over House Bill 900 in July, the group’s lawyers said in a statement. Albright will issue a written order in one to two weeks; in the meantime, the state cannot enforce the law, according to the statement. …
A court representative for Albright did not respond to an inquiry about his comments during Thursday’s hearing, reported by the plaintiffs’ lawyers and on social media by at least one plaintiff.
“We are grateful for the court’s swift action in deciding to enjoin this law, in the process preserving the long-established rights of local communities to set their own standards; protecting the constitutionally protected speech of authors, booksellers, publishers and readers; preventing the state government from unlawfully compelling speech on the part of private citizens; and shielding Texas businesses from the imposition of impossibly onerous conditions,” the plaintiffs said in a joint statement after the hearing. “We look forward to reading the court’s full opinion once it is issued.”
“Judge Blocks Texas Book Ban Law,” Publishers Weekly, August 31, 2023:
Chris Barton, a children’s book author who lives in Austin and who testified in front of the Texas legislature when the bill was being debated, told PW he was “delighted” with the judge’s decision. “This is more along the way I was feeling after the first hearing,” he said. “It is a good sign that the first time this law has gotten any kind of scrutiny, it did not do well.”
EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka also praised the judge’s decision. “The Constitutional problems with HB900 were plain to see,” Chrastka told PW. “Anytime the state forces the creation of a content rating system, it is impinging the freedom to read. This ruling prevents unnecessary government overreach in Texas and should caution other states against contemplating their own unconstitutional book rating systems.”
Officials at the Texas Library Association said they appreciated Albright’s timely decision, and “will continue to support Texas school librarians as they work with their administrators to navigate the confusion that has been created by the requirements in the law.”
“Vendors, school librarians and state agencies await decision on Texas House Bill 900,” Austin American-Statesman, August 28, 2023:
Days before the effective date for a law that would significantly change how school districts acquire books for their libraries, book sellers and state agencies await a legal decision that could stop the new rule in its tracks.
A U.S. district judge heard arguments Monday from lawyers for several Texas book sellers — including Austin’s BookPeople and Houston-based Blue Willow Bookshop — who have asked for a legal pause to House Bill 900, a new law that limits books with sexual content in school libraries.
The lawyers for the bookshops argued that the newly mandated rating system created an expensive, impossible burden for businesses, while state attorneys insisted the law wouldn’t infringe on the vendors’ rights. …
Albright’s ruling could come as early as this week, but the judge also indicated he might need more time to make his decision.
“Judge Sets Second Hearing on Motion to Block Texas Book Rating Law,” Publishers Weekly, August 21, 2023:
On August 18, Federal Judge Alan D. Albright heard the first round of oral arguments in Austin, Tex., on a motion to block HB 900, Texas’s controversial new book rating law. But with Texas attorneys filing a motion to dismiss the case just days earlier, on August 16, Albright said he would need more time before ruling on either motion. The judge has set a second hearing for August 28, adding that he would rule before the law is set to take effect on September 1. …
The hearing drew several interested observers, including Wendy Woodland, director of advocacy and communication for the Texas Library Association; several residents of Llano, Tex., who last year filed one of the first lawsuits fighting efforts to purge books from Texas libraries; Darryl Tocker, executive director of the Tocker Foundation, which offers grants that fund the development of libraries in rural Texas; and authors including novelist and historian Stephen Harrigan and children’s book writer Chris Barton.
Speaking to PW, Barton summarized what many in the room felt: “Between the state’s attempts to articulate a defense of the book ban and the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ many well reasoned and clearly conveyed arguments against it, both sides managed to make the law seem worse to me than it already did.”
“Stakes Are High as Judge Hears Motion to Block Texas Book Rating Law,” Publishers Weekly, August 18, 2023:
A federal judge in Texas is hearing oral arguments this morning on a motion filed by a coalition a booksellers and book industry advocates to block HB 900, the state’s controversial new book rating law, from taking effect as scheduled on September 1. Attorneys for the state of Texas, meanwhile, are asking the court to deny the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, and to dismiss the lawsuit entirely. …
Meanwhile, a host of statements and briefs released ahead of today’s hearing illustrate how high the stakes are for the publishing community. In a collective amicus brief, the Association of University Presses, Barnes & Noble, the Freedom to Read Foundation, Freedom to Learn Advocates, and the American Association of School Librarians slammed the Texas law.
“In a specious attempt to allegedly protect children, Texas has passed a draconian law riddled with massive constitutional defects that would effectively prohibit schools libraries from providing their students with a broad array of books, including some of the most seminal works of literature published,” the brief states. “It would impose a blatantly unconstitutional ratings scheme on booksellers, forcing them to label a book with arbitrary ratings invented by the Texas legislature before being able to sell books to school libraries.”
The brief calls the law’s requirement that vendors rate “all books currently available in Texas public school libraries and sold to them in the future” for sexual content an impossible, “Sisyphean,” and “blatantly unconstitutional” task. “A more coercive regime is hardly imaginable,” the brief concludes.
In addition, the major publishers, represented in the suit by the AAP, also took aim at the law in statements provided to PW.
“For the love of literature: How book bans are whitewashing America,” Baptist News Global, August 18, 2023:
One of the biggest concerns with book bans is how vague language leads schools and booksellers to remove all types of books out of a confusion about the nebulous governmental standards and fear of punishment for not complying with bans.
In response to vague legislation on book censorship, schools in recent years have erred on the side of caution and removed any questionable books. As a result, there is a rising trend in “wholesale bans” where entire classrooms or entire libraries are emptied of all books or shut down altogether.
The danger in vague language is that it creates confusion and intimidation which leads to the removal of more literature than necessary for fear of punishment and for lack of time and capacity to decipher unclear criteria.
As a result of HB 900, several schools are simply not buying new books for the 2023 school year. These kinds of laws not only restrict children’s access to some books, they often result in an unavailability of all new literature or all literature in general.
Fighting against this outcome, the complaint against HB 900 points out that, “Legislators expressed concern that the overbroad language of the Book Ban could result in the banning or restricting of access to many classic works of literature, such as Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, Ulysses, Jane Eyre, Maus, Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, The Canterbury Tales, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and even the Bible.”
Even the Bible — talk about a book full of sexually explicit content.
“New book-rating law violates First Amendment, Texas bookstores claim in lawsuit,” KSAT, August 14, 2023:
One of the associations listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit is the American Booksellers Association (ABA), which has 156 members in Texas who are vendors to school districts subject to the law, including the Twig, Nowhere Bookshop and San Antonio’s five Half Price Books locations.
KSAT interviewed representatives from several local bookstores about the legislation and lawsuit.
Elizabeth Jordan, the general manager of Nowhere Bookshop, located in Alamo Heights, questioned why booksellers are required to generate the ratings and not teachers or librarians.
“Putting aside that the standards in the law are vague, we, as booksellers, are not qualified to decide on what makes for appropriate reading materials for local school children,” Jordan wrote in a statement to KSAT. “That work is best left to trained professionals like teachers and librarians.”
“The potential impact is overwhelming,” Claudia Maceo, manager of The Twig Book Shop at Pearl, wrote in a statement to KSAT. “That we are to be held accountable for books sold in the past is incomprehensible.”
In a written statement, Kathy Doyle Thomas, president of Half Price Books, reiterated the company’s stance on the legislation.
“Half Price Books will not stand for a law in Texas that would require our booksellers to participate in the censorship of books,” she said. “Not only is the law unconstitutional, it is unrealistic and impossible for any bookseller to read and rate every book we might sell to a school or library. The ‘contemporary community standard’ rating criteria is vague and completely subjective to each person.”
Jordan said the law is untenable.
“We cannot possibly read and rate every book we sell (or have sold in the past),” Jordan said. “We cannot know which books being purchased in our store or at our many offsite events are intended for classroom or public school library use.”
“The Week in Libraries,” Publishers Weekly, August 11, 2023:
Make no mistake, an upcoming August 18 hearing in an Austin court now looms as one of the most important in recent publishing history. At the hearing, Judge Alan D. Albright will hear arguments for a preliminary injunction blocking HB 900 from taking effect. The motion argues that the “delegation of government authority to regulate speech to private entities or individuals, such as the establishment of rating systems,” is unconstitutional. But if HB 900 is allowed to take effect on September 1 as scheduled, the impact will likely be felt beyond Texas, freedom to read advocates warn, likely serving as a green light for similar “book rating” bills in other states.
“As New Law Looms, Follett Asks Publishers to Help ‘Rate’ Their Own Books for Sale in Texas,” Publishers Weekly, August 7, 2023:
In their recently filed lawsuit to block HB 900, the controversial new Texas law that will require vendors to rate books sold to schools for sexual content, a coalition of booksellers and publishing industry associations insist that the law is both unconstitutional and impractical. “Booksellers do not see a clear path forward to rating the content of the thousands of titles sold to schools in the past, nor the thousands of titles that are published each year,” explained plaintiff Charley Rejsek, owner of Austin-based vendor BookPeople, in a July 25 statement announcing the litigation. But with the law’s September 1 effective date bearing down, Follett School Solutions, the nation’s largest distributor of books to schools, does see a path forward in Texas—and that path apparently includes asking publishers to help rate their own books.
However, with their pending federal lawsuit seeking to block the new Texas law from taking effect, publishers and other industry stakeholders are balking at Follett’s request to help the vendor rate their titles. Though all of the Big Five publishers declined to comment directly on the Follett memo for this story, multiple publishers confirmed its details. One publishing executive told PW on background that they understand the bind Follett faces in Texas with the new law but that complying with the request to rate their books would make them “complicit” in an act of censorship. And in a statement, one publisher, Hachette, went on record to broadly reject the idea of rating its books.
“We strongly disagree with the idea that rating our books to flag certain content, or having retailers or wholesalers do this, is appropriate or helpful. We trust our teachers, trust our librarians, trust our parents, trust our student readers who are hungry to experience the world in all the ways that books allow. And we trust the processes of professional review and community input that have been in place for decades,” Hachette officials told PW.
“Texas’ book ban law isn’t just bad. It’s bad business. (Opinion),” Houston Chronicle, August 4, 2023:
A preliminary injunction hearing is being held in Austin on Aug. 18. What can you do to help in the fight? In the past, I might have told you to “write to your legislator.” But it appears our legislators don’t like to read and at this point, that option is passed.
Ideally, I’d urge you to go to Austin and show your support for our freedom to read in person. I know I’ll be there. But if that is not an option for you, how about this: Go to a bookstore. Talk to a bookseller. Ask for a recommendation. Buy the book. Read it. And repeat. You get extra points if you share it with your children, their teachers, friends and family.
It’s easy. That’s it. Buy books. Read. Repeat. Vote with your dollars. Then, when the time comes, vote the knuckleheads responsible for this out of office.
“‘It’s untenable’: Houston bookseller speaks out against new Texas book rating law,” Chron, August 4, 2023:
For the most part, [Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop] thinks the law was just hastily written and hastily passed, without much thought into how it would affect local businesses. She recalls reading transcripts of the bill’s debate, with one senator guessing that maybe 50 bookstores in the state would be affected by the law. The real number is closer to 300.
“I thought somebody in committee, some representative or senator, would stand up and say ‘Have we really read this through all the way?’ And so I was shocked that they passed it both times,” she said.
Meanwhile, statements from the defendants—in this case, officials from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission; the Texas State Board of Education; and Mike Morath, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency— are due to the West Texas Federal Court assigned to the case on Aug. 18. Koehler said she feels optimistic.
“Maybe this bill was just passed quickly without a lot of thought going into the ramifications of it,” she said. “It is our hope that cooler heads will prevail.”
“Booksellers, Industry Groups File Suit to Block Texas Book Rating Law,” Publishers Weekly, July 25, 2023:
A coalition of booksellers and book industry advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit this week seeking to strike down a controversial new Texas law. Among the law’s provisions is one mandating “library material vendors,” including booksellers and publishers, to create and implement a rating system for books sold into Texas schools and school libraries based on the book’s “sexual” content. The 28-page complaint claims that the law—which is set to take effect on September 1—would impose sweeping, vague, and unconstitutional content-based restrictions on readers and unduly burden booksellers.
“By giving the state unbridled and arbitrary discretion to declare books ‘sexually explicit’ and ‘sexually relevant’ and prohibit the sale of constitutionally protected materials by a bookseller, with no recourse and no provision for judicial review, the [law] constitutes a prior restraint that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” the complaint alleges. If the law is allowed to take effect, the complaint claims, it would “cause a recall of many books in K-12 public schools, bans of even more, and the establishment of an unconstitutional—and unprecedented—state-wide book licensing regime that compels private companies and individuals to adopt the State’s messages or face government punishment.”
The plaintiffs in the case include two Texas bookstores, Austin’s BookPeople and Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, together with the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Dubbed the “Reader Act” (formerly known as HB 900), the law was passed on April 20 and signed by Texas governor Greg Abbott on June 12—although the complaint refers to the law under an apt new shorthand, referring to it throughout as the “Book Ban.”
“Booksellers sue over Texas law requiring them to rate books for appropriateness,” The Texas Tribune, July 25, 2023:
“Texas law banning sexually explicit material in school libraries lacks clear guidance,” Austin American-Statesman, July 21, 2023:
Many of the largest book jobbers — middlemen between publishers and libraries — aren’t based in Texas, so they may develop different policies for what’s considered sexually explicit, said Wendy Woodland, director of advocacy and communications for the Texas Library Association.
“A company may not have the resources to invest in compliance and may choose not to,” Woodland said. “If they do stay into the market, their costs are driven up, and those costs may get passed on to schools.”
That cost is one of [Russell Lee Elementary School librarian Jenny] Day’s main concerns. To fill out her 15,000-book collection, she buys discounted copies of books when she finds them, but she worries she can’t do that now unless the corner bookshop or grocery store rates books.
Day has always had conversations with students’ parents about the books their children check out. She frequently reaches out to parents if a student wants to check out material she thinks might be a little mature for their age, such as a third grader who wants to read “The Lord of the Rings,” she said.
When parents ask her to steer their child away from certain books, she respects that, she said.
“We’re not the enemy here,” Day said. “We are the ones that are helping out your kids by showing them literature and new worlds.”
“Opinion: Students and the right to read – why new law should be challenged,” Austin American-Statesman, July 16, 2023:
HB 900 stipulates that if the state finds that booksellers get the self-rating of even a single book wrong, they could be barred from doing business in Texas for a year. Therefore, the incentive is powerful to err on the side of caution and overrate books as to sexual content. This will result in many books being eliminated from school collections that are entirely appropriate for student use.
To restrict such books from school libraries is a violation of students’ First Amendment Rights. Rulings from the Supreme Court on cases such as Tinker v. Des Moines School District and Island Trees School District v. Pico have yielded protections for students’ constitutional rights and affirmed that they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” In the 1982 Pico case, the Supreme Court affirmed that “Our Constitution does not permit the official expression of ideas,” and that a school board acted unconstitutionally when books were removed from the public school library based upon their “personal values, morals and tastes.” We are not attorneys, but it seems that HB 900 will result in just this kind of unconstitutional limitation on public school library books. Two recent lawsuits have emerged against similar legislation in Arkansas and Florida in the cases of Fayetteville Public Library, et al. v. Crawford County, Arkansas, et al. and Pen American Center, Inc., et al. v. Escambia County School District and the Escambia County School Board, respectively.
Using the word “vendor” is “where this whole bill went wrong,” said Ben Conn, President of the Educational Book and Media Association.
The following could all be considered vendors under the READER Act, according to Conn, as they all sell books: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, a publisher like Penguin Random House, a wholesaler like Conn’s Classroom Library Company and an independent bookstore like BookPeople.
“They’ve encapsulated the whole entire industry,” Conn said. “That would be like to say Paramount’s going to come out with a movie and every individual movie theater could then go ahead and rate the movie differently. It just makes no sense whatsoever.”
Richard Bailey, the school liaison for Interabang Books in Dallas, arranges author visits, book drives and book fairs for Dallas County schools.
He wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott in May in protest of the READER Act, also known as HB 900. Bailey expressed concern that contested books could be removed from libraries and classrooms for an undetermined period of time while a review is underway.
“It is ridiculous to think that there is a cabal within the community of booksellers and educators who are hoping, who work under cover of darkness, to present sexually explicit material to young people,” Bailey said. “That is absolutely wrong.”
Interabang Books and Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio both offer educator discounts to help support their community. At Nowhere Bookshop, educator discounts start at 20% but can go up to 40% if schools buy multiple copies of a book.
“Our margins are already so thin on these deals,” Elizabeth Jordan, manager of Nowhere Bookshop, said. “If we add another layer of labor or another layer of some sort of vendor that has to do this reviewing for us, then it does not make financial sense for us to continue.”
[The law’s primary author, Republican Texas State Rep. Jared] Patterson told CNN this law is “model legislation for the rest of the country.”
“Texas GOP’s Book Bans Are the First Step in Anti-Public Education Crusade,” Austin Chronicle, June 30, 2023:
HB 900 will force businesses that sell books to school libraries, known as “vendors,” to rate those that contain sex scenes, beginning no later than April 1. Throughout the just-concluded legislative session, librarians, teachers, and public school administrators pleaded with lawmakers to reject HB 900, saying that forcing vendors to rate books will cause them to simply stop selling any books to Texas libraries. They were steamrolled by Republicans, including Sen. Angela Paxton, wife of impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton, who carried HB 900 in the Senate. She, too, has claimed there is pornography in school libraries and agreed not to change the wording set by House Republicans in HB 900, to ensure the bill’s swift passage. It was approved 19-12, with every Senate Democrat voting against it.
After Abbott signed HB 900 on June 12, he handed the pen to Mandy Drogin, a campaign director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. TPPF is the group that, more than any other, has worked to destabilize public education in Texas over the last 30 years. In that time, TPPF has authored and introduced voucher bills and bills that would allow taxpayer money to subsidize private religious schools. The group had a major success in 1995 when it helped convince Texas legislators to allow the adoption of charter schools.
“Katy ISD halts all library book purchases, directs incoming books to storage pending book reviews,” Houston Chronicle, June 27, 2023:
The discussion began when Katy ISD General Counsel Justin Graham broached House Bill 900 with the board, noting that the newly passed legislation, which aims to ban sexually explicit materials from school libraries, will become law April 1, 2024.
In the interim, board President Victor Perez suggested that Katy ISD circumvent the need for removing books from the library by preventing them from entering libraries all together.
In response, Gregorski agreed to cease all book purchases and to move already purchased books into storage indefinitely until the board creates a new procedure for book evaluation.
“How Texas’ new school library ‘rating’ system will work,” CBS Austin, June 16, 2023:
What remains to be seen is how willing vendors are to comply with Texas’ new law, given its uniqueness among state statutes across the country.
“I think the willingness to pressure publishers in order to demonstrate this commitment to the cultural goals… the legislation here is really focused on on sexual and gender-related content, by pressuring businesses, is part of an emerging pattern that we’re seeing in the legislature,” James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project, said. “I think it’s it’s hard to tell at this moment, I think there are there are some corporations that are reconsidering the profile and the publicity of their commitment [to LGBTQ rights].”
Given that the onus is largely on the individual book vendors to implement these policies, it’s possible some distributors could opt not to operate in Texas education. The law requires schools to only work with compliant vendors.
“We’re already hearing from vendors, as they’re in the early days of trying to even figure out how to go about doing this, that they’re going to have to add staff and time,” [Texas Library Association executive director Shirley Robinson] said. “And the risks to the vendor are pretty great: if they rate a book incorrectly, and then that is that rating is challenged, the book could be removed, and the vendor might not be allowed to sell in the state of Texas, and so they may just walk away from the state.”
“Texas Officially Bans So-Called ‘Sexually Explicit’ Books; Demands Book Ratings From Vendors,” Book Riot, June 15, 2023:
The same day Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a ban on book bans in public libraries and schools into effect this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that bans “sexually explicit” books from schools.
House Bill 900, the “parent empowerment” bill, has spent the legislative season picking up ground in Texas’s state legislature. The now-codified READER Act — Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act — the law means that school librarians have to follow new standards when it comes to purchasing materials for their library.
The new READER Act has two main components, both of which must be in place and ready to go January 1, 2024:
- The Texas State Library and Archives Commission will now be creating a manual to outline materials standards, and it will need to be approved by the State Board of Education. While the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is comprised primarily of library and information professionals, their need to report to the State Board of Education is of significant concern. The Board is appointed by the governor, giving the governor influence in whether or not the manual defines appropriate and inappropriate materials to his liking.
- The READER Act also mandates that book vendors rate the content of the books they sell and compile it into a document for review by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). TEA then has the ability to create a “do not buy” list from vendors who do not comply or meet the standards outlined by the READER Act. TEA has been complicit and encouraging of book bans across the state by “encouraging” parents to give input into what books they believe are not appropriate for students to access. TEA’s guidelines for materials put school board members in charge of deciding collections, not the librarians or educators in the schools. The Commissioner of Education is appointed by the governor, giving the governor powerful influence in the TEA.
“Abbott signs law banning ‘sexually explicit’ books from schools, requiring new rating system,” Texas Standard, June 14, 2023:
“The crux of all of this is that it puts the responsibility on the vendors (to rate the books), which is a couple of steps away from where a book has originally been created,” [Texas Library Association executive director Shirley Robinson] said. “We’re talking about anyone from an independent bookseller to all the way up to Amazon. And it’s really unclear how vendors are going to implement the rating requirements. You might have a case where one book is rated differently by a number of different vendors, and it will be up to the Texas Education Agency ultimately to make the determination if that book is rated correctly or not.”
Robinson said her concern is with the vague language in the bill.
“Our concern in working with the bill authors is that the language is very vague and broad. The requirements are going to be unrealistic and very cumbersome to implement,” she said. “Unfortunately, this could really stifle business in the state of Texas. And we know that collections and school libraries are going to become outdated and erode over time because of the amount of time that it’s going to take schools to be able to get books.”
Republican Rep. Jared Patterson of Frisco said his bill was 18 months in the making. He said the hardest part has been convincing people that the materials he was looking to ban from school libraries were even there to begin with.
Rep. Patterson said he believes the law he wrote is clear.
“The Texas Library Association is an enemy to children in this state,” said Patterson.
“Gov. Abbott signs school book-rating bill and doubles down on vouchers,” Houston Chronicle, June 12, 2023:
Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law on Monday that will create a statewide rating and censorship system for school libraries and another promoting more centralized school curricula.
The rating bill, House Bill 900, is designed to ban certain books with sexual content from school libraries, and Abbott praised it as getting “that trash out of our schools.” Opponents have warned it will target books aimed at an LGBTQ audience, and bookstores, particularly smaller, independent ones, have said the bill is poorly written and could be damaging to their businesses.
“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs ban on ‘sexually explicit’ books in school libraries into law,” Austin American-Statesman, June 12, 2023:
Throughout the legislative process, book ban opponents voiced concerns that the bill targets material pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community and that such prohibitions infringe on a student’s right to read.
The Texas Freedom Network condemned the bill becoming law, saying the parameters of what constitutes “sexually explicit” are unclear in the legislation and that any book relating to gender identity could be seen as “sexually relevant.”
“HB 900 restricts our children’s ability to read freely by allowing politicians to interfere with our education system when parents already have a system that works to control what their children read in our schools,” Val Benavidez, executive director of the network, said in a statement. “All the alarm bells should be going off when state leaders use their elected power to control our children’s ideas and erase the historical experiences of our communities.”
“Waco-area public school libraries await standards, ratings for books with sex-related content,” Waco Tribune-Herald, June 9, 2023:
House Bill 900, passed in the regular legislative session, concerns “sexually explicit” and “sexually relevant” materials that districts may have in their school libraries. Most districts have policies directing librarians, teachers and administrators to evaluate such materials for suitability and age-appropriateness before purchasing. The new law directs the Texas State Library and Archives to draw up state standards on sexual material, with approval from the State Board of Education, that would shape what districts can buy in the future.
It also requires book sellers to create up their own ratings for sexually explicit and sexually relevant content, then rate the books sold in the past. Vendors would have to recall any books rated sexually explicit that they have sold, and Texas public schools would be prohibited from buying any books with such ratings. Districts could retain books rated as sexually relevant, which might include literary works with sexual content or scenes, but would have to publish lists of those books or materials every two years with explanations for why the books are in their libraries.
Vendors have until April 1, 2024, to rate the books they have sold, with recalls of materials deemed sexually explicit after that. The Texas State Library and Archives has a Jan. 1, 2024, deadline to come up with standards for such material.
House Bill 900 also requires written parental permission for a student to check out any books or material rated as sexually relevant.
The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has created broad voluntary standards for public school libraries since 2004 on subjects including the number of books per student, the age of a collection and the frequency of culling damaged or outdated titles. Texas State Library and Archives spokesperson Susan Floyd said the collection standards that House Bill 900 directs the agency to create, with oversight from the State Board of Education, will be mandatory for schools.
“Op-Ed: Book Bans Are Just the Start of a Dangerous Trajectory for Texas,” Texas Signal, June 6, 2023:
Libraries and schools are places for students to explore, to question, to think critically, to argue viewpoints, to find themselves. Hiding the real world from us is wrong. Telling us that we must all be the same, and that some of our lives and families are “inappropriate” is unconscionable. Laws like Texas House Bill 900 and the rhetoric attacking librarians and teachers creates a chilling effect, where books get banned, challenging and impactful stories aren’t placed on shelves, great educators decide teaching isn’t worth the weight they are forced to carry, and generations of kids get left out, left behind.
“Special ed funding, school book bans and more: How education issues fared in the Legislature,” Texas Standard, May 30, 2023:
HB 900, which bans certain books in school libraries, is on the governor’s desk.
The legislation requires companies that sell books to school libraries to set up a rating system for books based on references to sex.
Books containing such references that are part of school curriculum will still be allowed with parent permission. Books that aren’t and are deemed “patently offensive” will be banned entirely.
Adri Pérez, organizing director of the Texas Freedom Network, said the bill unfairly targets literature highlighting the experiences of LGBTQ people and people of color.
“To attack that, to try to take away those stories and that access from students in Texas schools is fundamentally an attack on the freedom of information and on democracy in the state of Texas,” Pérez said.
“Why Texas’ book-rating bill threatens the state’s 300 independent bookstores,” Houston Chronicle, May 26, 2023:
Owners and employees of bookstores around the state have said they don’t have the staff or expertise to read and rate every single book they are selling to an educator, and they have no records to retroactively rate every book they’ve ever sold to a school. If the TEA finds that bookstores have been incorrectly rating books, they can be banned from doing business with charter schools or school districts, which might make up between 10 percent and a third of their business. …
“If vendors want to sell books in Texas, they certainly have a vested interest in making sure it’s done properly,” [Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney] added.
But while those large vendors may be able to more easily bear the extra costs associated with this bill if it becomes law, it will be more difficult for the roughly 300 independent bookstores in Texas that have much smaller profit margins overall than the giants.
It’s common for stores to offer discounts for teachers, librarians and schools, which means the margins on those sales are lower.
For example, a librarian might give the store a list of 150 books they want to buy, at an average of 200 pages each. If this bill becomes law, the store will need to pay someone to read and rate each of those books, and run the risk of being punished by the Texas Education Agency if they get it wrong.
This could either make it more expensive for schools to buy books or make such sales infeasible for small bookstores, said Elizabeth Jordan, general manager of Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio. Her store had a goal of increasing its share of sales to schools to about 15 percent of its total business, she said, but that will no longer be possible.
“If I am selling a book to a school, I will have to have read the whole book to determine if it’s sexually relevant or sexually explicit. And both of those things, I think, are pretty subjective, and I might rate them differently than others might,” she said. “I don’t see why I would put myself at risk to do that. If all the onus is on me, all the liability is on me, and it’s not a job I’m trained to do or my employees are trained to do.
“I think that the ultimate end result is there’s just going to be a lot fewer books in school libraries because there are going to be fewer bookstores willing to do the work to sell those books, and that’s bad for all Texas students.”
“Librarians, Publishers, Bookstores Join Lawsuit Over Arkansas Library ‘Obscenity’ Law,” Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2023:
Some 17 plaintiffs—including the ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation, the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, and the Authors Guild—will file a federal lawsuit over a recently passed law in Arkansas, Act 372 of 2023 (also known as SB 81), which exposes librarians to criminal liability for making allegedly “obscene” books available to minors. …
Also this week, lawmakers in Texas passed a bill that could also wind up in the courts. House Bill 900, which now heads to governor Greg Abbott’s desk, would regulate so-called “sexually explicit” books in school libraries and would require publishers and vendors to assign ratings based on sexual content. “Books with a ‘sexually explicit’ rating would be removed from library bookshelves,” reports the Texas Tribune. “And students who want to check out books with a ‘sexually relevant’ rating would have to get parental permission first.”
“When Do We Move From Advocacy to Preparation? Book Censorship News,” Book Riot, May 26, 2023:
With the final vote on Texas’s HB 900 … how do we move the needle from fighting against its passage to proactively preparing for what it will do to school bookshelves? HB 900 requires books earning the explicit content to be barred from entering public schools and those deemed relevant may require parental permission to access. The bill is purposefully worded to make determining the appropriate rating nearly impossible, putting the onus of disagreement between vendor and any adult who picks up the book onto the vendor; in other words, it is fertile ground for rising lawsuits pitting “community standards” and “parental rights” activists against vendors.
“ABA Meetings Highlight Membership Growth, Strategic Plans,” Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2023:
On the subject of book banning, [American Booksellers Association CEO Allison] Hill promised that the ABA will make “an announcement next week about an important next step to protect people’s right to read.” …
Many booksellers asked for guidance in dealing with book bans. Elizabeth Jordan of Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio pointed to Texas’s HB 900, which passed the legislature on May 23 and is expected to soon be signed by Governor Abbott. HB 900 “requires that book vendors rate and review books sold to public school libraries for sexual explicitness,” Jordan said. “It doesn’t just affect us, it affects Scholastic, Barnes & Noble—I hope every book vendor in Texas will keep that in mind.”
Referring to petitions against HB 900, Hill observed, “Thousands of people said, ‘This is not okay with us,’ and representatives said, ‘We don’t care.’” Seconded by David Grogan of American Booksellers for Free Expression, Hill said ABA planned a hire “to assist with strategy” and reminded the assembly to watch for next week’s announcement.
Imelda Mejia the Director of Communications at the Texas Freedom Network believes the bill could limit students access to education.
“Books about sexual orientation and gender identity for example help them with expression, respect for others, and it helps our students learn more about their friends and others who might be different from them,” Mejia said. “To limit what our students have access to will severely harm them and put them in a bubble.”
Reverend Scottie Shelton [of Exodus Metropolitan Community Church] believes removing books considered to be sexual from school libraries will send the wrong message to students who may be trying to learn more about themselves.
“Any time we start going down the road of banning books it’s a slippery slope,” Shelton said. “Anytime you start any kind of book banning of a marginalized community in particular, especially when you start calling a particular sexual orientation sexualizing or dangerous you actually negate an entire group of people.”
“Conservatives Have Turned to a Ratings System to Implement Book Ban,” INTO, May 24, 2023:
On Tuesday night, Texas lawmakers approved House Bill 900 which, if signed by the governor, would require book vendors to assign ratings to books that have depictions or references to sex. With house approval already, the next step is to hit the desk of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to either be vetoed or turned into a law.
“House Bill 900 is simply another tool that we as a state can use to do all that we can do in our communities and in our schools to address harmful sexually explicit material,” said State Senator Angela Paxton, on the Senate floor Tuesday night.
If HB 900 is turned into law, not only would book vendors have to assign ratings to their books, if there’s sexual content of any sort in them, but the vagueness of the bill could effectively prohibit certain books from shelves. Books can receive a “sexually relevant” rating, which means that the material references, describes, or portrays sexual activity, but is a required part of the school curriculum. However, a book can receive a “sexually explicit” rating, indicating that the book’s material references, describes, or portrays sex in a way that’s “patently offensive” and not required for the curriculum, then the book can be removed from shelves. …
Paxton claimed during her remarks that HB 900 would offer increased transparency on school library content for parents and school districts. But this bill just increases conservative control over material they deem offensive, which just so happens to mostly feature LGBTQ+ stories.
“Texas lawmakers OK bill that aims to keep sexually explicit material out of school libraries,” The Texas Tribune, May 24, 2023:
Lucy Podmore has been a school librarian for 17 years in San Antonio. Every school year, she buys more than 1,200 books for her students from multiple vendors. Podmore said the ratings would create “unreasonable obstacles” for book vendors. If HB 900 is passed, she said the bill’s requirements would slow down her book purchases. Librarians like Podmore are at the center of the bill.
“How feasible is it for the hundreds of vendors used in Texas to retroactively offer ratings on these items before librarians are allowed to purchase new materials from them?” Podmore asked lawmakers during committee testimony. “I urge you to not impede the ability of school librarians to serve their students.” …
“The bill will greatly slow the acquisition of materials by school libraries, reducing their usefulness and currency again, creating a negative impact on students,” said Mark Smith, the former Texas State Library and Archives Commission Director. …
“Such oversight has not been needed in the past and is not needed now,” Smith said. “The bill will interfere with student learning and achievement by blocking access to materials that have been restricted.”
“This Week in the Legislature: An Onslaught on Multiple Fronts,” Texas AFT, May 19, 2023:
In addition to HB 1707, the Senate Education Committee also voted out HB 900, the book-banning bill authored by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco). Under HB 900, private book vendors, not school librarians or elected officials, would assign ratings to these materials. Depending on the book’s rating, it would either be removed from school library shelves or would require parental permission to be accessed.
Books highlighting LGBTQIA+ experiences and perspectives are already frequent targets of book bans in local school districts statewide. Librarians worry that this proposal would further limit their ability to educate. The vague terminology about what is considered “harmful” materials in the bill would likely have a chilling effect on teachers.
“State Laws Are Behind Many Book Bans, Even Indirectly, Report Finds,” EducationWeek, May 19, 2023:
Although book bans have been reported in at least 32 states, most bans between July and December 2022 were concentrated in just five: Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.
“Do Texas Democrats Have Stockholm Syndrome?,” Texas Monthly, May 15, 2023:
What’s different this session, according to four Democratic political operatives I spoke to, is how bad the bipartisan bills are—and how little Democratic legislators seem to be getting in exchange for their votes. Take, for example, House Bill 900, a Republican-sponsored measure that would ban “sexually explicit material”—which, according to one of the bill’s authors, might include Lonesome Dove—from public school libraries. Opponents of the bill argue that the books targeted by such bans tend to focus on LGBTQ issues. A 2022 report from PEN America, a nonprofit that promotes free speech, found that Texas already has more local book bans than any other state. These bans cast “a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a flourishing democracy,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel wrote in a statement accompanying the report.
Despite intense progressive opposition to HB 900, twelve House Democrats crossed the aisle to support the measure, which passed by a vote of 95 to 52. One of the Democratic defectors, Houston representative Shawn Thierry, even praised the bill on the House floor, saying it would ban sexually explicit books that have “infiltrated” schools. Thierry, who represents a deep blue district whose voters cast ballots for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by an 80–20 margin, told me that she learned about these books from Christin Bentley, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee. In February, Bentley launched the “Filthy Books” campaign. Each weekday, she emails Texas legislators a library book she considers inappropriate for schoolchildren.
“Public school libraries see impending restrictions; Critics contact Waco trustees,” Waco Tribune-Herald, May 13, 2023:
Both Waco and Midway districts choose books and materials for their school libraries with decisions shaped by librarians knowledgeable about children’s and youth books and what is appropriate for various ages and developmental levels; standards and guidelines from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission; recommendations from national publications such as Booklist and the School Library Journal, which review books with an eye to age and grade level appropriateness; and book award lists.
[Deena Cornblum, Waco ISD assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction] said she has been irritated over outside criticism sometimes heard at school book battles in other districts that imply school librarians are out of touch with students and their communities.
“They assume our librarians aren’t community members and aren’t parents, but most are,” Cornblum said. “They are specifically trained for this. … They have the knowledge to make informed assessments.”
“The Extreme New Tactic in the Crusade to Ban Books,” TIME, May 8, 2023:
In Texas, HB 900, which just passed the state’s House of Representatives, would require book vendors to give books with any reference to sex a rating of either “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant.” Books rated “sexually explicit” could not be sold to schools, and those deemed “sexually relevant” would require parental approval for students to access.
Let’s be clear. These bills are not about protecting children. They are about using the power of the state to intimidate private companies and ban ideas and stories that some people find offensive or uncomfortable. By going after private publishing houses, these bills represent an appalling and undemocratic attempt at government overreach, and yet another escalation in the war against the freedom to read.
“House Bill 900 Hurts Small Business,” Blue Willow Bookshop, May 5, 2023:
Attention, Texas neighbors: We want to bring your attention to House Bill 900 (HB900), a law that we are urgently opposed to.
In a nutshell, HB900 would slow down school book purchases, which will negatively affect the business of local bookstores like us — and the local economy.
Read more on why we oppose House Bill 900 below, and please join us in contacting your state lawmakers to voice your opposition.
“Texas education board could ban textbooks that discuss gender identity under proposed bill,” The Texas Tribune, April 25, 2023:
Other legislation trying to restrict the kinds of books kids can access includes Senate Bill 13, from Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, which aims to keep sexually explicit material off school library shelves and has already passed in the Senate. In the House, members passed House Bill 900 — a priority for House Speaker Dade Phelan — which would also take sexually explicit books off school library shelves and would require that some books with sexual references get parental consent before a student can check them out.
“Freedom to Read Supporters Say It’s Time to Get Louder,” Publishers Weekly, April 25, 2023:
Another ABFE [American Booksellers for Free Expression] campaign gaining traction addresses Texas bills HB 900 and SB 13, both designed to restrict reading access. HB 900 proposes rating controversial books “sexually explicit” to prohibit their sale to schools, while [SB] 13 would create school library advisory councils to prescribe local values and subject librarians and teachers to criminal penalties for exposing children to material deemed harmful.
Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s director of free expression and education, said a few years ago, just after the pandemic began, parent-led organizations demanded removal of books.
“The loudest voices had been a very vocal minority, but a distinct minority,” Friedman said.
That’s now expanded to local legislatures, which are increasingly pushing to have book bans encoded in state law.
“Texas House passes bill that aims to keep sexually explicit materials out of school libraries,” The Texas Tribune, April 19, 2023:
The Texas House passed a bill Thursday that aims to ban sexually explicit materials from school libraries. But legal experts, librarians and some parents are concerned that the bill’s language is vague and broad enough to ensnare books that are not inappropriate.
“Texas lawmakers’ attempts to ban school library books deemed inappropriate for kids spur confusion — and concerns,” The Texas Tribune, March 31, 2023:
The legislation targeting school library books is the latest frontier in a larger battle that’s being waged across the state about what information public schools provide kids. In 2021, lawmakers restricted how educators can teach controversial current events and America’s history of racism. This year, legislators are considering proposals that would outlaw gay pride events at schools and limit school lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The concern here is that they are trying to go to a one-size-fits-all solution for libraries,” said Lucy Podmore of the Texas Association of School Librarians. “Librarians know that campus needs vary from campus to campus.”
Current standards don’t require campuses to have certified librarians, individuals required to have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in library or information science, at least two years of classroom instruction experience and certification. HB 900 does not create a mandate that campus librarians be certified.