In Texas, libraries are a political battleground. On the same day that the Texas Library Association convened its annual convention in person for the first time since 2019, attendees learned that residents of Llano, a rural county outside Austin, were fighting back against efforts by Republican politicians to censor local libraries. It was, perhaps, a sweeter irony that the TLA’s conference, which ran April 25–28, was held in Fort Worth, in the district of state representative Matt Kraus. Kraus started a campaign to ban books in Texas last October, when he sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency asking school districts to investigate the presence of more than 850 diverse and inclusive books in school libraries.
Remarking on the news from Llano, Darryl Tocker, executive director of the Tocker Foundation, the state’s most prominent charity involved in supporting rural public libraries, told PW, “It’s wrong what is happening in public libraries. There’s no other word for it.”
The TLA was positioned in clear opposition to Kraus’s stance. Not only did the conference open on Monday night with a keynote speech by Alyssa Edwards, a celebrity drag queen (which itself attracted a smattering of protestors), but it was followed Tuesday morning by Ibram X. Kendi, in conversation with Roosevelt Weeks, discussing his work, including his forthcoming book How to Raise an Antiracist. “The more you understand and appreciate other cultures, the more you understand and appreciate your own,” Kendi said at the event.
One fan of Kendi’s appearance was Donya Craddock, co-owner of The Dock Bookshop, a Black-owned bookstore in Fort Worth. “I think he just taps into people’s unconscious mind, and it triggers people to say hey, I want to learn and read more.” Craddock was selling books at the show and said business was “steady.” She added that librarians in general were good customers and were especially eager for more middle grade fiction and graphic novels for diverse readers. In fact, the topic of DEI was front and center at the show and was the dominant theme of most panels, with many focusing on how librarians can audit their existing collections and then augment them to cater to a wider range of patrons.
Marina Tristán, assistant director and marketing supervisor at Arte Pûblico Press, said that there was strong interest in bilingual Spanish-English children’s books. “It has been a growing category for us,especially as librarians are becoming more aware of the huge unserved demand out there for the books,” she said.
School librarians remain the primary audience for TLA vendors and exhibitors, which ranged from conglomerates like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins to smaller regional publishers like Dexterity of Nashville, as well as local organizations, such as the Writers’ League of Texas and Authors Marketing International, both based in Austin.
“It’s just great to be back among friends and colleagues again,” said Carmen Abrego, who works in communications at the Houston Public Library. “I missed seeing my people so much.”