Even Picture Books Are Being Banned! We must fight back with everything we’ve got!
by Lisa Sandoz Robinson
When former Texas State Rep. Matt Krause released his list of 850 titles* that he felt needed to be investigated, I read through page after page with growing alarm. An informational text on how to avoid bullies? A history book about the Trail of Tears? A book discussing a resistance movement among Afghani girls? But what really shocked me was seeing a book that I myself had purchased for my elementary school library just a few years ago: Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.
When I selected this nonfiction title, I was impressed by its numerous awards. I was also hopeful that my mostly Hispanic students could relate to the story since the case involved Sylvia Mendez’s fight to desegregate her California school for children of Mexican heritage. When the book came in, my students were excited to hear about a girl with whom they had so much in common. It reminded me that diverse stories matter for our students who need to see themselves in the books that they read. It also reinforced my belief that one of the most important tasks that a librarian can do is share those individual stories of history that the classroom curriculum is sometimes too rushed to cover. When diverse books and books telling an uncomfortable or difficult story from history are removed from library and classroom shelves, these goals cannot be realized.
I am the co-moderator of a new Facebook group called the Banned Book Club. We have read some great banned and challenged books in the last few months. In honor of National Children’s Picture Book Day on April 2nd, our April Zoom session will be the first time we focus on picture books. These wonderful books, which are usually geared towards younger readers but are really for anyone who loves a great story accompanied by a wealth of illustrations, have also been targeted by rightwing extremists in their zeal to “cleanse” our schools and public libraries.
We cannot continue to let them get away with these book banning efforts which are happening across the country at all grade levels. Too much is at stake. As Kentucky nurse epidemiologist Beverly May wrote in an October 2021 op-ed for the Lexington Herald Leader, “the cost of acquiescence is steep: our kids have lost essential reading, and useful tools have been taken from teachers. Now emboldened, the parent/censors will return, and not just to Floyd County. They are part of a national trend of online organizing which seems to have the unspoken objective of removing literature written by or about black and brown people, as well as any other work that doesn’t affirm their narrow world view, from our schools.”
We must speak up and speak out loudly at every opportunity.
HISD Library Services Data Update as Shared with the School Board and Administration
by Dorcas Hand
Feb 25, 2023
Dear Mr. House and HISD Administration,
Students need Libraries in HISD has just sent individual letters to the School Board expressing our support for your decisions to reconstitute HISD Library Services this school year. It was a bold and exciting decision, and we wanted to be sure the Board is aware of the impact to students across the district, and specifically in their own districts. The data is also posted to our website.
The letter they received is below, not in italics.
Students Need Libraries (SNL) has been watching with excitement the changes in HISD Library Services as our students across the district get the library resources consistently. We commend you, Superintendent House and Officer Adrian Acosta of the Academic Instructional Technology Department for your collective leadership to reconstitute the central Library Services Department in support of all the campus libraries. We thought you would appreciate an update to the data we have offered SB members for the last 5 years, data that reflects the changes in campus services. We will also post this data to our website.
We can now say that 88% (228 campuses) have certified teachers or librarians (certified teachers with additional library certification) staffing the campus library. That is compared to 48% (132 campuses) last year. And only 24 campuses (9%) have no library services now, compared to 93 campuses (34%) last year. To put a finer point on this, 228 campuses with services and only 9 without for 2022-2023 compared to 132 with and 93 without in 2021-22.
Please keep in mind these points about HISD Library Services and schools within its control when reading the following two-year comparison table:
The HISD Library Services Department, led by Len Bryan, is working with all these library staff whether they are new to the library, new to the district, or experienced HISD librarians. They are building a team across the district, a team connected by feeder pattern, by grade level served, and by Board district to collaborate to the benefit of all your students. The combinations of staff, active library facilities, and the influx of ESSER-funded books supports students to love reading and learning.
We know that [Board Members] look at the campuses in [their] own district, so we also offer [these tables] of staffing by [district and] campus to help you with those details. We hope that you will stop by these libraries to see the energy and enthusiasm that is clear from students and staff. We know because we have also been stopping by to help the library staff move the old books no longer suited for circulation off the shelves and floors to let the new books shine.
SNL remains ready to support the libraries in any way that Library Services finds useful. We follow their lead, because they are implementing district goals.
Students Need Libraries in HISD
by Debbie Hall
We believe in the power of books to change lives.
We believe that all students need access to books and that a zip code or school campus should not determine access to libraries.
We believe that Superintendent Millard House has a plan to improve HISD schools and he should be allowed to follow through with his vision.
We believe our school board is focused on the best interests of students.
We believe that a TEA takeover is an unwarranted power grab.
The two problems identified as problematic (school board and Wheatley) have been resolved. Also evidence shows that school takeovers do not provide an effective solution.
Now is the time to let HISD leaders focus on the task at hand.
Our Students Need Libraries In HISD advocacy group believes that our elected officials represent the best interests of the students, the schools, and the community. We are appalled by the actions of the TEA and know that this cloud hanging over the school district must end.
We believe in our board and our new superintendent, Millard House. We would like our readers to know that we have written letters to the editor of the Houston Chronicle to document that support. We have also written to the Chronicle education reporter, Rebecca Carballos, in support of HISD's position.
There are numerous articles documenting the failure of school takeovers to fix problems in schools. Here are just a few:
Let the HISD leadership move forward to improve the education of all students. TEA needs to mark this matter resolved.
By Dorcas Hand
This may be an off-year for school board elections, but political rhetoric for all other races is heating to a fever pitch. Education issues have become pawns as some try to say schools are not doing their job properly. We are all watching as K-12 curriculum and libraries have both taken heat.
We want to thank the HISD School Board and administration for standing by the solid policies and procedures already in place to manage requests for reconsideration of materials, rather than acting on demands from the loud and passionate speakers who attend SB meetings to request that books be banned. The restoration of library services to all campuses this year is further support of this effort to offer our students a wide range of reading materials to accommodate their ages, abilities, interests and academic needs. HISD demonstrated in its budget decisions that we value our teachers, and are working hard to pay them what they are worth. Thank you for also respecting them as the professionals they are and for the expertises they hold.
We are here today to remind you that a majority of voters prefer that libraries and classrooms continue to offer readers of all ages access to information that will help them explore their world, and fiction that will excite their imaginations and strengthen their literacy.* These mainstream voters want to make sure that children in families struggling to make ends meet can get the same good education as children in wealthy families, and that quality public education grounded in respect for each person is available to every student.
Many voters are confident that the democracy defined by our Constitution will keep us steadily moving into the future. But it is the voices in the minority, loud and demanding, who want to control not only what their own children read and learn, but what all children read and learn - and they do it for political clout, rather than for the children. They have generally not completely read the books in question, but focused on words and phrases taken out of context. The so-called Parental Rights they fight for already exist, and schools listen to them. Every parent has the right and responsibility to play the lead role in the education of their own children, but they do not have any right to deny other families the same right to offer their children more open access to information.
How can our students learn to lead this democracy as adults if they cannot read about our history - even unpleasant, messy, unfortunate historical events - to see attitudes and actions they want to prevent from happening again? How can they appreciate the lives, cultures and experiences of our diverse city and world without exposure to all of that? How can our students learn to manage their own human development and understand people around them if those topics are not available? All kids deserve to feel safe to learn and thrive at school. Removing resources that make a few uncomfortable leaves many more students with limited academic resources that would honor their cultural awareness. In America, we celebrate free speech and independent thinking. Trying to limit or remove those freedoms is censorship.
Thank you for continuing to support Superintendent House and the amazing well-educated, hard-working teachers and administrators HISD has hired as they work with our awesome and diverse students. We are relying on these students to understand their changing world as they become Houston voters and leaders. They will need broad knowledge, confidence in their abilities to collaborate with many, and insightful creativity to solve the problems we already see and the new ones we don’t yet imagine. And you are the current School Board we rely on to continue your support of a great HISD education. Thank you for your service. Students Need Libraries in HISD stands by you to defend our students’ right to read.
*“New ALA Poll Shows Voters Oppose Book Bans.” American Libraries, 24 Mar 2022. “The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates and North Star Opinion Research on behalf of ALA. It included 1,000 voters and 472 parents of children in public schools. The sample is demographically and geographically representative of voters and parents in the US. Additional survey findings and methodology can be found on the ALA website.”
HISD’s Goal: The Global Graduate
HISD espouses this obvious and admirable goal: all HISD graduates will be ready for the world they are entering as adults. Sadly, the last time any data was updated on this program is 2014:
And in those 7 years, HISD has struggled on many fronts. I will focus on libraries. There are 280 schools in the district but only 57 certified librarians in 2021-22; this year, there are 93 schools with no library, whether it is defined as vacant or closed. How can students progress to college without awareness of library skills and resources throughout their K-12 career? At the high school level, out of 40 high schools, only 15 have functioning libraries and of those only 7 have certified librarians. How can HISD expect to send college-ready graduates out the door when they have no clue how to take advantage of the services of their college library?
And now the good news: Superintendent House has just announced in his Strategic Plan an intention to restore library services to all HISD campuses. This will support HISD Global Graduates in their quest for strong life and academic schools based on clear awareness of the services and tools libraries provide.
College level Literacy in 2022 includes critical thinking, understanding of how to vet sources for validity, skills to decode images and infographics as well as text, and much more that is not necessarily covered in classroom curricula. School librarians are teachers with additional training to support students in learning to be skilled users of information. In order to use information to build new ideas, students must first identify the information they need; locate that information; read, analyze and understand it; and finally build new ideas of their own based on what they have learned. College and university students who have no previous experience with libraries or research methods struggle very much, and sometimes drop out of higher education as a result. Houston Community College librarians can also speak to this. The Assn for College and Research Libraries commissioned Rhonda Huisman to do research into this topic in 2015 (see link below). “If we continue to allow these roles [librarians] to disappear from the K–12 landscape, what academic librarians and faculty will be compensating for or remediating will impede the engagement, retention, and success of those college ready, college bound students.”
HISD has been failing its graduates when its schools do not provide strong library services throughout the K-12 years. Knowing there is now a plan to restore library services across the district is very important. That said, starting with high school libraries makes sense as they will be the first out the door. Even students who will not attend college need information skills to find jobs, to use complex catalogs included in those jobs (think looking up auto parts to match year, make, model), to continue to learn for better jobs, and to participate in their communities as adult leaders. Building new library programs in the 25 high schools that currently have none will take time and attention, not to mention a culture shift. Calling a campus College Guidance area the library is not the same as working with all students to be sure they do graduate with the life skill of information usage in all its aspects. Parents who expect their students to be successful after graduation expect that HISD will step up to offer them the right tools to accomplish that, which includes strong library services geared to preparing students for academic work at the college level.
Huisman, R. (2015). Library As Place in Urban High Schools: Connecting College Readiness to Librarian Intervention and Community Partnerships.
by Debbie Hall
Library Services are administered at the district level under the auspices of various larger departments. In some districts, the library manager reports to the director of technology, school support services, or curriculum for example. It is sometimes difficult for the managing department to be responsive to the needs of libraries because they are not well-versed in the unique needs and functionality of school libraries. Here is what I recently shared with members of the HISD leadership team about problems I have observed with how Library Services is being managed. This is especially critical due to the recent resignation of the HISD Library Services Manager.
As a retired HISD library administrator, I watch with interest and concern for events that potentially impact library services to students. Recently, the manager of HISD Library Services resigned. The job was posted on January 20th. When I saw the job application online, which gave almost no mention of school library administration, I became concerned. The present job description for the Library Manager is entirely about the duties of a curriculum manager and barely mentioned libraries.
It is my observation that the decline of library services to students in HISD has escalated under the supervision of the Department of Curriculum. Under the Curriculum Department's control, the manager of Library Services has changed four times in ten years. All the clerical and secretarial personnel have been eliminated and the remaining professional staff has been called upon to perform copyright checks for curriculum projects in addition to their library services duties. Library Services has been used to the advantage of the mission of the curriculum department with little or no support of their own departmental mission. Prior to 2011, HISD had placed Library Services under School Support Services which allowed the department to work collaboratively with many other HISD departments. Library Services personnel routinely provided services to school libraries like cataloging, processing donated materials, inventory, and other help as needed. I urge you to reconsider where Library Services belongs on the organizational chart. It needs to report to a department that believes libraries are essential to public education.
The manager of Library Services is an important school leader who can make a significant difference in the ability of libraries to provide for the needs of all students. The person holding this position needs to have experience in managing libraries and a thorough understanding of the mission of the district’s library program. It is for this reason that the selection committee should include people who are familiar with the skills and experience needed to run a department in a large school district. Considering the current state of HISD’s libraries (so many vacancies and closed libraries), the next library leader should be one who has the vision to restore libraries across the district by implementing a boldly designed plan over time with the support of HISD’s leadership. For this reason, the selection process should include (as it has in the past) library leaders from outside the district as well as HISD librarians. HISD leaders should also take part in the selection process, but a committee without library expertise will not be likely to ask the questions needed to determine a candidate’s suitability. I am concerned that the district will move too quickly on the selection of the next library administrator. Applications are collected until a specified date and then the interviews begin. The current ending date for applying is March 28th. It would be standard procedure to make an announcement that would go out to the Texas Library Association and the American Library Association to attract the best candidates. This has not been done. I just saw the announcement online and posted it on the Texas Library Association Jobline a few days ago.
If the HISD wants to see students served by libraries, it starts here with this job. Get the best candidate and don’t rush the process.
By Dorcas Hand
On its face, Site Based Management seems like a good thing. It puts the decisions about how a campus budget is spent entirely in the principal’s hands: who to hire, what positions to fill, what extras to offer, etc. HISD is the only district in Texas to still use this method; it was a trend for a while, but other districts realized they needed to exercise some central control while still giving schools some local control over decisions and budgeting. They, for example, require a nurse, counselor and/or librarian on each campus – and they adjust campus funding so that these roles are centrally funded leaving the campus to decide the rest.
Several things have affected the HISD culture around libraries, but I want to focus on two.
The decision lies with HISD administration and will require careful thought and a slow timeline that includes educating all HISD principals to the benefits of having a school librarian and a fully funded library on every campus as well as an in-house Alternative Certification Program to train librarians for the positions that job insecurity over the last 15+ years has vacated.
The ESSER money being spent this year and next to update the book collections of all campuses not meeting the state definition of “Proficient.” [Wait, you say? There are Texas Standards and Guidelines for School Libraries? Why yes, there are. These include recommended quantities of books per student among other definitions - see p.43.] Having books on the campuses that are current, include popular titles, and are ready to inspire even reluctant readers at all grade levels to read for pleasure as well as for information. And that is only one aspect of the impact school libraries can and do have on the students who use them. Students who graduate from schools served by school libraries with certified staff are more successful in college. [Farmer, Lesley J. and Skyler Phamle, “Transitioning to college: Impact of high school librarians”]
Our job as advocates of school libraries is to speak up often to campus administrators and district staff, including our Superintendent, and to our SB members, asking why students in the most challenged areas of the district have the least access to library resources and staff to help them grow as learners. While SNL does this often, we need parents and community members to speak up, too. It is your children that are in school now and will soon be heading to jobs, trades, the military or college. Every one of those students deserves a fully stocked and fully funded school library staffed by a certified librarian.
Takeaways from this post:
by Dorcas Hand
The Committee on Library Advocacy of the American Library Association published this infographic recently to illustrate the benefits to every K-12 student of open access to a fully funded and fully staffed school library. Students Need Libraries in HISD offers the image to support all the advocates across HISD who are speaking up for equity of access to school libraries for all HISD students. Sadly, it is those neighborhoods with the most challenges that are least likely to have a fully funded school library staffed by a certified school librarian. We are working together to convince Superintendent House, his staff and all the campus administrators across the district to step up for school libraries on behalf of our students and in support of stronger literacy achievement.
The image above is the front page. The back page includes supporting documentation for each point, as illustrated by these examples.
Parents, parent organizations, teachers, and community advocates need to speak out often about the fact that HISD has only about 55 certified librarians for 280 schools. Another 75 or so have certified teachers staffing the library. That leaves approximately 140 schools with either non-certified staff (50) or a closed library. We can do better.
Please share this information with your campus community to be sure they speak up frequently. Start with the campus principal who currently makes that decision - but don’t forget the district, because both the Superintendent’s office and the School Board need to know what benefits students miss out on when not served by a library adequately staffed and stocked with up-to-date, compelling materials.
ARTICLES about School Libraries with Certified School Librarians
by Dorcas Hand
Certified School Librarians in Texas are certified teachers with at least two years full-time classroom teaching experience PLUS coursework in library science PLUS a Masters Degree.
In Houston ISD, personnel with all this additional training are paid the same as any classroom teacher making the expertise held by the campus librarian a bargain!
HISD has just hired a new Superintendent. We at Students Need Libraries in HISD welcome Millard House. He comes from Clarksville-Montgomery County School Systems in Tennessee, where every school has a certified librarian. Consequently, we have high expectations that he will work to offer students across HISD the EQUITY of a school library that is fully funded, holds a diverse collection of materials appropriate to the student population, and is staffed full-time by a certified librarian. HISD Library Services stands at the ready to support him in making this change.
YOU who read this blog post hold the responsibility as members of the Houston ISD community to speak out for equity for all our students. HISD Literacy rates are much lower than they should be, and inconsistent across the district in part because students have not had reliable access to school libraries that support the students’ own reading interests with awareness of their skill levels and abilities. Together, we can change what has been into what can be.
This blog is primarily authored by Debbie Hall and Dorcas Hand, but guest authors are welcome. If you have an idea to share, please contact our email below. Debbie is a retired HISD librarian and Library Services Specialist. Dorcas is a retired school librarian who remains active in AASL/ALA. Both support increased equity in school library access and support for all HISD students and campuses.
Click to our Facebook page.