In a decision that is so shocking it sounds like satire, the new, state-appointed superintendent of the Houston Independent School District has announced plans to eliminate library staff from 28 schools and turn the libraries into detention centers for misbehaving students. Following a takeover of underperforming Houston schools by the state of Texas, Superintendent Mike Miles described the repurposing of the libraries as part of a “new education system” that will improve reading levels and test scores. The libraries of those schools will now serve as “team centers.”
Trying to improve education by removing libraries from schools is nonsensical. Across the United States, studies have demonstrated that students in schools with strong school library programs learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized test scores than their peers in schools without such resources.
HISD officials have said books will remain available to students in the team centers. However, there will be no librarians and media specialists to suggest books they may not know about and to add new books that students request. Because the affected schools are in low-income neighborhoods, the loss of libraries will fall heavily on students who lack other resources.
While shocking, the ease with which Superintendent Mills abandons libraries is easily explained. Libraries and librarians are under attack across the country. The number of books removed in school and public libraries that reflect marginalized voices is occurring at record levels and profoundly impacts youth of color and LGBT+ students. Librarians have been singled out for punishment by people who falsely accuse them of distributing “pornography” and “grooming” children for sexual abuse. The crisis has been particularly intense in Texas, where state legislators have actively promoted book banning.
The National Coalition Against Censorship and the organizations signed below strongly affirm the importance of libraries and librarians in the education of children. We urge the Houston Independent School District to cancel its plan to eliminate libraries and to retain library staff and the critical services they provide.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers for Free Expression
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Association of University Presses
Educate Us: SIECUS in Action
Index on Censorship
Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library
National Council of Teachers of English
People for the American Way
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Students Engaged in Advancing Texas
Woodhull Freedom Foundation