Houston’s ‘Little Banned Library’ highlights literature as Texas leads country in number of books banned

HOUSTON – A polarizing tale with multiple sides to the story.

Jennifer Clements, a “Little Banned Library” librarian, said books being banned is a “red herring.”

“So that we don’t have to talk about the real danger in schools to children, which is guns.”

This is as new legislation will become law in Texas that will ban more books.

Jennifer and her husband Glenn opened Little Banned Library in Houston Heights at the corner of Heights Boulevard and 11th Street.

“Why stand by and let it happen?” Jennifer asked.

Consider this a cuffed Little Free Library.

“They just come in, take a book, they can leave a book, and we just ask that they return it. That simple,” explained Jennifer.

This adaptation contains banned books of subject matter focused on race, racism, female rights and LGBTQ issues. Titles available at Little Banned Library are ever-changing, but include: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘1984,′ ‘The Color Purple,’ ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ and ‘The Giving Tree.’

“I have a friend whose mom is a teacher, and she just sends me her list. Every time a book gets banned, she immediately sends it to me and then we order the book. This is the surest way to make sure a book starts to sell again is to ban it. My message is that this is a red herring so that we don’t have to talk about the real danger in schools to children, which is guns,” explained Jennifer, whose husband is an assistant librarian.

“We, you know, have some ideas about expanding the project,” said Glenn, who added they hope to expand Little Banned Library.

House Bill 900 goes into effect on Sept. 1. This law regulates and establishes new standards for reading material at public school libraries. Book vendors will assign ratings to books based on sexual references. Depending on the level of the rating, a child might need parental consent to check out the book, or the book could be banned and removed from the bookshelves.

Kasey Meehan is PEN America Freedom to Read Program Director.

“An effort to really suppress free speech,” Meehan said.

PEN America is a national non-profit organization that defends and celebrates free expression through literature.

“So, one of the, you know, pieces of rhetoric that we’re constantly pushing up against this idea that there’s obscene material in schools or pornography in schools, and by no definition of those terms is that the case. These books are intended to be in schools.” Meehan said. “Sometimes it can be individuals in the district, in the school district, or in the community that are challenging books. And increasingly, though, we also see the role of legislation influencing what books are available.”

The governor’s office had not responded to our inquiries at the time this report was published.

Here is a breakdown of local school districts that responded to our requests:

Galveston ISD

“Galveston ISD adheres to all legal policies put forth and required by both federal and state legislation. It is through these policies that we maintain each library and its inventory and ensure that students who wish to check out books do so from a selection that is appropriate for each campus’s reading level. Galveston ISD will make any adjustments needed to ensure that the requirements pertaining to House Bill 900 are implemented in our schools and that the libraries in our district are in compliance.”

Clear Creek ISD

“One book was removed as part of the librarians’ weeding process. The book was not subject to a formal request for a formal review. It was removed because it was deemed not educationally appropriate. “We did make policy changes in February prior to House Bill 900. Library materials about human sexuality at elementary schools (prekindergarten through fifth grade) shall not be made directly available to students, but shall rather remain in a secure location and may only be checked out to students with prior parental permission.”

Fort Bend ISD

“Fort Bend ISD has removed 1 book from its library collection. The book was at 3 high schools. The removal was based on a determination from a Reconsideration Committee. FBISD is committed to following our current policy and procedures related to the selection and purchase of instructional resources, including library books and will do so until the new law goes into effect.”

Aldine ISD

“Aldine ISD has not banned any books from school libraries in the past 3 years. At this time, the district has not made any policy or procedural revisions as we explore ways in which to meet the expectations of HB900 to ensure the district is in compliance with the new law.”

Katy ISD

Sixteen books removed since 2021. Eight have been removed within the past year. An additional eight have been investigated.

The state’s recent enactment of HB 900 into law has caused school districts in Texas to review their policies on existing and future library materials. As a result of this new legislation, the district temporarily paused the purchase of new library materials to fully understand the implications of the law and to ensure its policy aligns.”


About the Author:

Zachery “Zach” Lashway anchors KPRC 2+ Now. He began at KPRC 2 as a reporter in October 2021.