The Harris County Commissioners Court is turning the Harris County Public Library system into a “book sanctuary” after passing a resolution on Tuesday that compares HB 900, also known as the READER Act, to the Jim Crow era and Nazi Germany.
The READER Act bans public schools’ purchase of books from vendors who have previously sold educational materials deemed sexually explicit. The law, which was supposed to go into effect on September 1, was put on hold by a federal judge after becoming subject to constitutional challenges.
The Harris County Public Library (HCPL) Book Sanctuary Resolution aims to counter what it calls a threat to Texans’ “freedom to read.” The resolution traces the history of book censorship, connecting the practice to authoritarian governments.
“[B]ook banning and censorship have existed throughout the history of written works, a practice most notably observed in the 1860s and Jim Crow Era when Southern states prohibited abolitionist literature, and in the 1930s when Nazis burned over 25,000 books seen as ‘un-German,’” the resolution reads.
“[T]he HCPL would like to serve as a Book Sanctuary to preserve Texans’ right to read by collecting and protecting endangered books by making them available to the public, by fostering discussion about challenged and diverse books to promote understanding and mutual respect, and by educating the public about current and past efforts to censor and ban books,” the resolution notes.
Ed Melton, the director of the HCPL, said the resolution serves as a way to promote diversity in the community.
“I think it’s very important for the library to be able to provide content and information to everyone, especially in the community that is so diverse in terms of Harris County, and the thing about books is that it’s always going to be a reflection of yourself or personal experience or a window that you can share an experience with someone else,” said Melton during a meeting of the Harris County Commissioners Court on September 19.
The resolution was passed following the publication of a report by the American Library Association (ALA) that showed Texas is the number one state in the nation when it comes to challenging potentially inappropriate books in libraries, as covered by The Dallas Express.
The ALA study found that Texans filed 93 challenges last year regarding 2,349 different titles over concerns they were inappropriate or even harmful to children.
Brady Gray, president of the Texas Family Project, said Harris County’s decision is devastating for children in the district.
“Let’s be clear, the books in question are vile and are designed to corrupt, confuse, and ultimately destroy the minds of children,” Gray said, per the Texas Scorecard. “That is what Harris County intends to protect.”
The ALA study found the demographic most likely to report books as inappropriate in the United States was parents, comprising 30% of challengers. According to the report, the top 13 most challenged books were cited over concerns that they contained sexually explicit material. Number one on the list was Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which includes depictions of oral sex. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, the second most challenged book, depicts anal sex.
Dallas ISD faced pressure this year after it kept the book Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by Lev A.C. Rosen on library shelves for months after hearing concerns from parents over sexually explicit content, as reported by The Dallas Express.