OPINION: Libraries are where all students should feel accepted

Published 12:47 am Saturday, December 18, 2021

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Across Texas school districts are deciding to remove books from school library shelves while they are reviewed “out of an abundance of caution.” We strongly believe that these actions violate students’ First Amendment rights and local school boards’ own reconsideration policies. Such policies are in place to ensure that books are not removed for the purpose of denying students access to ideas that some individuals don’t agree with.
It is extremely concerning to see how quickly and easily school districts are abandoning well-reasoned and functioning policies and ignoring the expertise of their professional librarians and teachers. These kinds of reactionary decisions based on the vocal protests of one group are not in the best interest of students or the community. Remember, children watch and learn from adult behavior. We have a great opportunity to teach a lesson in patience and acceptance.  Let’s seize it!
As one District Court eloquently stated, “in the school library a student can literally explore the unknown and discover areas and interests of thought not covered by the prescribed curriculum…The student learns that a library is a place to test or expand upon ideas presented, in or out of the classroom.” (Right to Read Defense Committee v. School Committee, 454 F.Supp. 703, 715 (Mass.1978)
Professional librarians receive extensive education and ongoing training to qualify them to develop collections which meet the broad and varied interests and needs of their communities. They spend hours reading professional book reviews, surveying teachers and students for their input, and monitoring publishers’ new releases to find the absolute best literature to add to the library shelves.
Selections are made based on board-approved collection development guidelines not personal likes, dislikes, or beliefs.
It is important for children’s’ development that they see themselves in the books they read. Every book tells someone’s story and sometimes that story is harsh and vulgar to others. Good writers stay true to that reality with words and depictions that challenge us all to see and understand each other’s stories. That is the way we all get better and grow into a more accepting society.
School libraries are a place where all feel accepted, valued, and seen. No one should feel like their story is censored, taboo, or “kept behind the desk on a special shelf.” No book is right for everyone, but one book can make a significant difference in one life. Parents have the right to decide what their children read, but they do not have the right to make those decisions for everyone’s children. Let library professionals work so that all parents can be sure their children find themselves represented in our books.

Daniel Burgard has over 30 years’ experience in academic and medical libraries. He is the president of the Texas Library Association.
Jill Bellomy is a middle school librarian in Dallas and the chair of the Texas Association of School Librarians (a Texas Library Association division).