In mid-September, the Harris County, Texas County Commissioners Court passed a resolution that declares Harris County Public Library a "book sanctuary" and seeks to protect Texans' freedom to read what they want. Harris County Public Library provides more information about the new resolution and its new status as a book sanctuary:
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 . . . 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.
To celebrate and help spread the news, Harris County Public Library posted this great video to its social media. The video, shot in black and white, features a librarian holding up cue cards—a la Bob Dylan in Subterranean Homesick Blues—that explain the resolution and describe what it means to be a Book Sanctuary. They also included the following text:
As a Book Sanctuary, HCPL will
* Fight censorship and defend your freedom to read
* Collect, protect, and make available endangered and challenged books
* Spread the word about efforts to ban and censor books.
This move is timely, as this week (October 1-7) is the American Library Association's "Banned Books Week," an annual celebration of the freedom to read. The ALA website describes purpose of Banned Books Week, whose theme this year is "Let Freedom Read":
Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read and spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. For more than 40 years, the annual event has brought together the entire book community — librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, writers, journalists, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
In a time of intense political polarization, library staff in every state are facing an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books. ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom ALA documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021. Of the record 2,571 unique titles targeted for censorship, most were by or about LGBTQIA+ persons and Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
Thanks, Harris County Public Library! Now, go read a banned book!