Books Save Lives Act Introduced To US Congress

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Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Following on the heels of the “Fight Book Bans” Act is another legislative proposal in Congress: the “Books Save Lives” Act.

Introduced late last week by Massachusetts Congressional Representative Ayanna Pressley, the four part bill is one of the first to directly address book bans on the national level. Where “Fight Book Bans” would open up money for school districts to fight book challenges, Books Save Lives goes even further to ensure that students have access not only to material but to trained librarians in their school libraries. It would also classify book bans as a violation of Federal Civil Rights–this ties right into the arguments being made in a wealth of lawsuits across the country that seek to end discriminatory policies and laws that infringe on First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.

The bill calls for the following:

  • Ensure primary and secondary schools have a library with a trained librarian
  • Require public libraries and school libraries to maintain a diverse collection of books
  • Classify discriminatory book bans as violations of federal civil rights laws
  • Direct the Government Accountability Office to report on the effect of book bans on underrepresented communities.

“Rather than honor the brilliance and diversity of our authors, illustrators, and librarians, Republicans are focused on further marginalizing people who already face systemic discrimination in our society – including people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, religious minorities, and people with disabilities – through discriminatory book bans,” said Rep. Pressley when she brought the bill to the floor. 

After introducing the bill to Congress, Pressley met with several authors, educators, and anti-discrimination and anti-censorship advocates to the Library of Congress. The event, a roundtable discussion, brought the issues of book banning and their impact on student learning and development to the forefront.

Photo from the Library of Congress roundtable on book bans.

“The Books Save Lives Act pushes back on this dangerous trend and reaffirms the need for representative literature by ensuring libraries nationwide maintain a diverse collection of books and classifying book bans as violations of federal civil rights laws,” explained Pressley. “Every reader deserves to see themselves reflected in our literature – and our bill would help make that a reality for all. I am grateful to our partners in crafting this legislation, and I urge Congress to pass my bill without delay.”

Since 2022, federal panels have addressed book bans, including a Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Hearing in October of this year that included panelists representing a majority of pro-book banning members; a September 2023 U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing that included a performance by Senator John Kennedygiving a dramatic reading of Gender Queer; and a Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties meeting in spring 2022 chaired by Jamie Raskin.

“Books Save Lives” and the “Fight Book Bans” Acts show promise not only for slowing down the ongoing rates of challenges and bans, but for addressing the systemic issues allowing such censorship to thrive in our current climate.

“As a student, the library was my second home. I discovered stories that opened up my world and my understanding of myself on the library shelves. I support the Books Save Lives Act because I want future young people to see themselves and their world reflected fully and accurately in their libraries,” said Maia Kobabe, author of Gender Queer.

The Books Save Lives bill has support from groups such as We Need Diverse Books, PFLAG, Florida Freedom to Read, and Colors of Change. The legislation is co-sponsored by Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Delia C. Ramirez (IL-03), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Kweisi Mfume (MD-07), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Valerie Foushee (NC-04), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Summer Lee (PA-12), Glenn Ivey (MD-04), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Alma Adams (NC-12), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Stacey Plaskett (VI), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Shontel Brown (OH-11), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Marc Veasey (TX-33), Steven Horsford (NV-04), and Lucy McBath (GA-07).

“[T]his bill will ensure that the expert curation of our libraries is inclusive of all the communities they serve. All Americans deserve the opportunity to see their lives reflected on the shelf and know that they are welcome here,” said Stephanie Ferrell of the Florida Freedom to Read Project.

If your representative is on among those coauthors of the bill, now is the time to write in support of the Books Save Lives Act. The same is true if your representative is not among the coauthors. Spend 10 minutes this week and be in touch with your congress person in support of the bill, then spend 10 minutes preemptively reaching out to your Senators, too, encouraging their future support of the bill. Your email or phone call can be as simple as stating your name and that you want to support/encourage your representative to be in full support of the bill. At the same time, you can express your support/encourage your representative to also support the Fight Book Bans Act.

You can read the full text of the Books Save Lives bill here. Find your Congress person and their contact information here.

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