Veronica Valdez’s first year as a librarian is coinciding with a new push to ban books in Texas public schools. But the Fort Worth ISD librarian isn’t worried. 

“There have always been people trying to ban books. It’s not really anything new. It’s just a little bit more popular right now,” Valdez said.

Valdez was one of hundreds of librarians carrying tote bags filled with books and other materials they picked up at the Texas Library Association annual conference this week in downtown Fort Worth. The location for the event was not lost on many attendees — they knew this is the hometurf of state Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican investigating schools for books on race, sexuality or that make students feel uncomfortable. 

Krause did not immediately return a phone call to the Fort Worth Report.

Abby Dunivan is a librarian in Comal ISD, north of San Antonio and east of New Braunfels. Dunivan, who has been a librarian for 12 years, agrees some books should not be in school libraries. However, children need to have access to as many books as possible to show them more of the world and to see people who are like them. It’s a way for students to know they are not alone, she said.

Students will find books on topics in which they are interested, Dunivan said.

“They’re going to find it on the internet,” Dunivan said.

The Texas Education Agency developed new school library standards that give parents more of a role in which books their children can read, gives school boards final say over all new books and establishes a book review committee if a parent files a complaint. The standards are not mandatory.

Gov. Greg Abbott wrote a letter to Texas Education Agency officials directing them to create guidelines on instructional materials.

“As you are aware, a growing number of parents of Texas students are rightfully outraged about highly inappropriate books and other content in public school libraries,” Abbott said. “The most disturbing cases include material that is clearly pornographic, which has absolutely no place in the Texas public education system.”

Some sessions at the conference were geared toward giving librarians the tools to navigate the political fight over what should be on school bookshelves. Books about race and sexuality that likely would make Krause’s list were on display inside the exhibit area.

Some conservatives have criticized the Texas Library Association conference for hosting events with drag queens and highlighting books they believe should not be on library shelves.

Like Valdez, Dunivan recognized prohibiting books is not new. The Comal ISD librarian described it as a revolving cycle where society goes through phases in which books become political targets. 

Still, Dunivan has not seen any pushback to any books in her elementary school library.

The Texas Library Association plans to push back against elected officials’ efforts to limit books in libraries. The organization launched a political group called Texans for the Right to Read to rally. 

Limiting books has extended beyond schools. Some communities, including Llano County in Central Texas, have started to focus on the materials public libraries offer.

Celadon Work is a librarian in Flower Mound. She works mostly with adults. Rather than teach children how to read, often Work shows adults new skills, such as how to use a spreadsheet, and tries to get them back in the habit of reading books.

Work, who has worked in Flower Mound for two months, hasn’t seen any pushback on the books in the library. However, she knows that could change.

“It’s a complicated time in Texas,” Work said.

As politicians fight over books, librarians said they will continue to focus on their top priority — reading. Whether it’s getting an adult to pick up books again, like Work, or teaching a young child how to read a picture book, like Dunivan and Valdez, that is what their jobs ultimately are about.

“I just love being a librarian because you’re helping students to learn and introducing them to ideas,” Valdez, the Fort Worth ISD librarian, said. “Reading is something we do our whole life. If you don’t have a good foundation at the beginning, you’re not going to enjoy it later.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.