In the heart of Houston, a distress signal blares loud and clear. On July 31, a shocking announcement: 28 school libraries to be transformed into “discipline centers.” Sounds dystopian? You’re not alone in that thought. Mayor Sylvester Turner labeled it a distressing trajectory towards a society of “haves” and “have-nots.” He worries about kids in low-income schools losing that haven from the chaos, a safe space where they can simply pick up a book and dream.
These 28 schools are a part of the New Education System (NES), an aftermath of state intervention in Houston’s educational structure. But the bigger concern? The unanimous outcry from national bodies like the American Association of School Librarians and PEN America, who view this shift as depriving schools of essential educators and services when they’re needed most.
But Houston’s libraries aren’t the only ones facing the ax. Thanks to Texas’ HB 900 – a bill seeking to extract “sexually explicit” content from school libraries, set in motion by Gov. Greg Abbott – the state is witnessing a surge in book challenges and removals. Although on a brighter note, on the national front, legislators like Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) are championing the Right to Read Act, aimed at preserving First Amendment rights within school libraries.
Yet, here’s the twist: while it’s easy to point fingers at the GOP for their draconian bills or their restructuring of school systems, the problem of neglecting libraries isn’t monopolized by one party. Look at the past. Before the state took the reins, HISD was already battling with equity issues in libraries. A shocking 30% of schools lacked resource-rich, well-staffed libraries. Even in bastions of blue like NYC, the promise of school libraries remains just that – a promise.
And then there’s the fiscal assault on public libraries. Remember 2010? Cory Booker, while mayor of Newark, New Jersey, made dramatic slashes to library funding, resulting in closures, reduced hours, and furloughs. Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor at the time, wasn’t far behind, chopping off significant chunks from the state’s library budget. Fast forward to now, and NYC’s public libraries are constantly on the edge, staring down cuts while billions funnel into NYPD’s pocket.
The tragedy? Libraries are caught in a seemingly never-ending crossfire. While the Democrats might rally against book bans and Republicans might advocate parental oversight on reading material, both sides seem to forget the heart of the issue. Libraries, the epicenters of imagination and knowledge, are facing chronic neglect, not just in Texas but across the nation.
Both parties have played their part in this disinvestment. While the reasons might differ, the end result remains the same: a society where the doors of knowledge are becoming increasingly harder to open. It’s time to prioritize expanding public institutions, to ensure they meet the aspirations of those they’re meant to serve.