[HOUSTON, TX. September 19, 2023] – On Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners Court passed a resolution aimed at protecting Texans’ freedom to read as they choose. The resolution designates Harris County Public Library (HCPL) as a book sanctuary. In this, the library joins over 2,700 organizations and institutions nationwide that have committed to safeguarding Americans' right to read, speak, and think for themselves as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The Need for Book Sanctuaries
Book Sanctuaries are committed to these principles:
- Collect and protect endangered books
- Make those books broadly accessible
- Host book talks and events, including sparking conversations about diverse characters and stories
- Educate others on the history of censorship, and current efforts to ban books
HCPL has long been committed to providing the widest possible selection of books and other materials to its patrons so that its shelves reflect the diversity of cultures, beliefs, and lived experiences of the people of Harris County. The motivation for the resolution is the recent politicized surge in attempts to ban books across the country, particularly in Texas which led the nation in book challenges in 2022. The vast majority of those Texas book challenges targeted books about traditionally marginalized communities including many books by African American, Latino, and LGBTQ+ authors.
"I think it's very important for the library to be able to provide content and information to everyone, especially in a community that is as diverse as Harris County," says HCPL Executive Director Edward Melton, “The thing about books is that they are crucial not only as mirrors that reflect our own experiences but also as windows into the experiences of others. The library must be able to provide those opportunities for all people."
Banned Books Week
The Book Sanctuary Resolution was passed ahead of the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual Banned Books Week (October 1 – 7). According to ALA’s website, Banned Books Week “highlights the value of free and open access to information and brings together the entire book community — librarians, educators, authors, publishers, booksellers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas.” Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis will hold a press conference on Monday, October 2 at 11:00 a.m. to address Banned Books Week and the Freedom Schools initiative. The event will include Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson who will discuss the impact of closing libraries in HISD.
A Library for All
The Book Sanctuary Resolution does not bar library users from asking the library to reconsider items on its shelves. The library has longstanding policies and procedures that allow patrons to voice their concerns about the appropriateness of materials in its collections, and each request is taken seriously. The resolution merely underscores that Harris County Public Library is duty-bound to safeguard all patron’s intellectual freedom and equitable access to information.
The Book Sanctuary Resolution dovetails with HCPL’s Library for All initiative which seeks to address the needs of underrepresented and underserved communities through library policies, services, and programs with a particular focus on the library’s commitment to fight efforts to ban books that represent those communities.
“Fundamentally, it is a matter of respect for others. Not all books are right for all people. Each individual and family has the right to decide for themselves what is appropriate, and the obligation to allow others to do the same,” says Melton, “That idea is at the core of the Book Sanctuary Resolution.”
Harris County libraries are now 'book sanctuaries' for banned books across Texas | houstonchronicle.com