Texas Library Association Executive Director Shirley Robinson will not take the ban on books lying down.
By Shirley Robinson, Photo courtesy of Shirley Robinson
For more than a year now, freedom of education and access to knowledge has been under attack in Texas by politicians and citizen groups that want to see books banned from libraries based on their own subjective opinions. It started with Texas Representative Matt Krause issuing a list of more than 850 books to target for removal and has continued to grow, with other politicians and citizens chiming in.
Many of the books targeted for removal from Texas’ libraries revolve around race, gender and LGBTQ+ themes. Proponents of book banning have continuously weaponized the lived experiences of many groups of marginalized people and have villainized librarians and educators for trying to ensure everyone has a right to diversity in their reading materials.
As leaders in our community, librarians and educators strive to apply empathy and understanding for all viewpoints. There is a lot of confusion, frustration and disenfranchisement in the world right now. One of the strengths of librarians is that they are peacemakers, solution finders and defenders of individual and personal identity. If anyone can figure this out with empathy and compassion, it’s librarians.
I joined the Texas Library Association in January of 2020.
It seemed like a great time to start a new chapter in my life—and it was! I had spent the previous nine years with an incredible organization but was ready for a change and had always had a passion for literacy, the pursuit of knowledge and, of course, spent many, many hours in libraries uncovering the mysteries of my own self.
The next two and a half years were a blur of navigating challenge after challenge through the pandemic and momentous change in our organization. Through it all, our board leadership, loyal members and incredible staff helped to keep us going. So when the Krause letter was issued to Texas school districts, I knew we would somehow be okay through this storm.
Librarians are an incredibly resilient and steadfast kind.
Even amidst threats to their jobs, personal safety and community reputation (none of which should be tolerated by any of us), they are immovable. They will work with their leadership, stand up to infringements on our constitutional rights and defend the foundation of their core beliefs of what it means to be a librarian.
The right to an education is a cornerstone of our country and our democracy. Education helps children read and write, add and subtract and learn about the world around them. It also helps children become well-rounded, productive adults who contribute to society. Books are critical vehicles for helping us to develop empathy for others and learn to think for ourselves and explore the world around us.
This book banning effort has caused division, hatred and harassment of qualified professionals and further threatens our rights to intellectual freedom. It also negatively impacts our children’s education.
Underrepresented and marginalized students are being taught that their experiences are not acceptable, while others are being taught that they need to be shielded from their peers and from experiences that differ from their own.
I Am Concerned
As a mother, I am concerned for the future of my own children’s freedom of education—and that of every other child in Texas. As executive director of the Texas Library Association, I am taking a stand and saying enough is enough.
We will not be silent in the fight for literary freedom. We cannot sit back and watch as our fellow professional educators and librarians continue to be targeted for doing the work they are passionate about.
As the first step in this fight, the Texas Library Association launched Texans for the Right to Read in March 2021 to combat this movement to ban books. Through this advocacy coalition made up of Texas citizens, we aim to educate the general public about the push to ban books and give them tools and resources to take a stand.
What is happening across our public libraries and school systems—things like the removal of books with any kissing, removal of books that contain even the suggestion of education on slavery and racism, removal of books that tell the stories of children and families that look more like 2022 rather than 1952—will have a long-term, lasting impact, not only on our educational system now, but on our children’s ability to understand their own lives and those of many people around them.
We need the public to understand that through all the noise of so much erosion to our personal freedoms, this erosion of our First Amendment rights must not be ignored. It is central to our ability to learn, to teach our families and to speak out for our beliefs.