AUSTIN, Texas — In the heart of the state Capitol, some Texans read books that have been challenged or removed from public school libraries. It was a silent protest to show they don’t support a growing movement to take books off of shelves.
“I would so much more prefer for a kid to experience something challenging or dangerous through the safety of a book than trying something like that in real life. Books are safe, when there's so much else in our world that isn't safe,” said Emily Hersh, a librarian at Navarro Early College High School in Austin.
Many books that have already been questioned have to do with issues related to people of color and the LGBTQ community.
“Those are my students, those are the underrepresented voices in young adults’ and children's literature, and those are the voices and books that my children need to see,” Hersh said.
That’s why she doesn’t support a bill by Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco. It would prohibit librarians from purchasing books that could be deemed harmful, sexually explicit or pervasively vulgar. Some lawmakers are concerned that these terms are too vague and will lead to classic and diverse books being removed from public school libraries.
“My concern is that if we are now mandating that libraries remove anything that's pervasively vulgar, that that may include ‘Catcher in the Rye’ because ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ as I've mentioned before, has more than 200 curse words,” said Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock.
“Classic works of literature is certainly not the target of this bill,” Rep. Patterson said in response.
Rep. Patterson said he’s targeting pornographic material.
On Wednesday, the House initially approved the bill in a mostly party line vote. But the educators outside the House chamber said what kids read should be up to their parents, not lawmakers.
“No small group of adults should be able to make that choice for a whole community. That's censorship,” Hersh said.
As this bill advances, the debate about what kids can check out from school libraries is bound to continue.