The Harris County Public Library system has officially joined a nationwide movement that prevents book banning and censorship, and maintains open access to information. Harris County commissioners unanimously approved the official resolution Sept. 19 that designated the nearly 30 public county libraries as “book sanctuaries.”

More than 2,900 book sanctuaries are established throughout the country, according to documents from the Chicago Public Library that began the initiative.

HCPL Executive Director Edward Melton said in a news release that it's important for the library to provide content and information to everyone in a community as diverse as Harris County.

"The thing about books is that they are crucial not only as mirrors that reflect our own experiences but also as windows into the experiences of others. The library must provide those opportunities for all people," Melton said.


Guidelines in place for the HCPL system and its staff as book sanctuaries include:
  • Defending readers’ freedom to speak, think and read as they choose
  • Protecting library staff from harassment and intimidation
  • Collecting and protecting endangered books by making them available to the public
  • Fostering discussion about challenged and diverse books to promote understanding and mutual respect
  • Educating the public about current and past efforts to censor and ban books

Also of note

According to the HCPL news release, the book sanctuary resolution doesn't bar library users from asking the library to reconsider items on its shelves for review.

  • The library has longstanding policies and procedures that allow patrons to voice their concerns about the appropriateness of materials in its collections.
  • The resolution merely underscores that HCPL is duty-bound to safeguard all patron’s intellectual freedom and equitable access to information.

Zooming in

This comes as educators in school districts nationwide are facing restrictions and new protocols when it comes to managing their libraries.

  • In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 900, which prohibited public schools from purchasing or displaying books that are “sexually explicit” and “educationally unsuitable.”
  • The bill created a new system rating for books and other material sold to schools. When Abbott signed the bill in June, he said it will give parents the right to know what books are in school libraries.

“Some school libraries have books with sexually explicit and vulgar materials. I’m signing a law that gets the trash out of our schools,” Abbott said.

Zooming out

This year, Florida surpassed Texas as having the most books pulled from shelves, according to national literature and human rights organization PEN America. According to the organization:

  • Over 75% of the books banned are selected for younger audiences, such as young adult books, middle grade books or picture books.
  • More than 150 school districts across the country banned a book during the 2022-23 school year.

Hannah Norton contributed to this report.