Is it possible for book vendors to rate the content of every book they sell to schools? Well, Texas has decided that it is possible. Texas law has just put the burden on book vendors. Book vendors are now held responsible for rating the sexual content in books they sell to school districts. Here’s what we know about the new law and how it’s going to impact schools and book vendors.
What’s the READER Act?
“The Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources Act” or HB 900, limits classroom materials with sexual content. So any content with sexual conduct presented in an ‘offensive’ way is banned from school libraries.
The big issue is that the school districts themselves do not have time to go through all these books, nor does the government. So instead, the responsibility of vetting books before they reach school libraries falls on book vendors.
The law was passed on June 12th, 2023. The Texas Education Agency along with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission has until January 1st, 2024, to create specific guidelines. Book vendors then only have four months, until April 1st, 2024, to rate every book in their catalog sold to schools. Not only that, but they have to rate all the books they’ve sold to schools in prior years. Ratings are then updated annually.
What happens if they can’t rate all their books by April 1st? Unfortunately, that means the book vendor cannot sell books to Texas schools.
Why Can’t Vendors Manage Books to Fit Texas Law?
Vendors is an incredibly vague term. It could refer to Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster, or independent bookstores like BookPeople. And as far as Jared Patterson’s debate, he means for it to encompass most of the companies mentioned.
I don’t care if you’re a small business or a big business; If you’re selling something that’s going to be in the hands of children, you should know whether or not it’s safe for that child to consume.Jared Patterson, Texas State Representative
Many smaller vendors have commented on the dangers this could do to their stores. Blue Willow Bookshop explains that 25% of its income comes from partnering with local schools. Booksellers can’t read every single book their shop carries, much less rate everything based on a vague expectation for sexually explicit content.
Book People is the largest independent bookstore in all of Texas, and they still can’t manage the burden of rating every book. They only have four months to rate the entirety of their collection, and it’s thousands of books. Their CEO, Charlet Rejsek, has already come forward to explain that they don’t have the manpower for such a huge task.
What’s Going to Happen to School Libraries?
There’s no way to know for sure how this will change reading until Texas schools implement the law. Vendors need more information on what it means for content to be sexually explicit, and that won’t come out until January.
Which vendors can make the deadline and what books are banned because of it, isn’t clear yet. Although undeniably, it will limit the books in schools and the vendors who can sell them. They may reconsider with the backlash from vendors, but the law has already been passed so it’s unlikely.
All we can do is support local bookstores regardless of how much they sell to school districts, and promote the books we think are necessary to children’s education.
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