Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-03) have once again introduced the Right to Read Act, which would, among its provisions, ensure all U.S. students have access to a school library staffed by a certified school librarian. The bill was first introduced in October 2022, but failed to advance through a lame-duck Congress.
Among the bill's provisions, the Right to Read Act would authorize up to $500 million in Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grants as well as increase the authorization for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program to $100 million, a significant bump from the $28 million currently proposed for FY2023. The legislation would also invest in "recruiting and retaining state-certified school librarians," and "school library staff working to broaden access to library collections."
Crucially, the legislation also reaffirms that "First Amendment rights apply to school libraries" and seeks to extend "liability protections" to teachers and school librarians. That measure is a direct response to the ongoing surge of book bans and educational gag orders disproportionately targeting titles involving issues of race and the LGBTQ+ community and in some cases threatening librarians and teachers with fines, jail time, or job loss for providing access to books.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, as many as 2.5 million students are enrolled in districts where there are no school libraries, and some 30% of students do not have access to full time school librarians, noted a release from Reed and Grijalva. The release also acknowledged the wave of book bans in states across the nation. "School libraries are most effective when they offer resources that resonate, engage, and empower students," the statement reads, "however, 37 states have enacted bans on books that disproportionately limit access to titles with LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color."
ALA officials praised the bill's reintroduction.
"National Library Week and School Library Month is a fitting time to spotlight how school librarians bridge the gap between access and opportunity for all learners," said ALA president Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada, in a statement. "The Right to Read Act stands up against disinvestment and censorship in school libraries and recognizes that every school library should be staffed by a state-certified school librarian. Strong school libraries staffed by school librarians lead to stronger teachers and greater academic achievement. ALA applauds Senator Jack Reed and Representative Raúl Grijalva for introducing the Right to Read Act.”
Kathy Lester, school librarian at East Middle School in Plymouth, Mich., and the current president of the American Association of School Librarians, a division of ALA, also applauded the bill.
"AASL fully supports the Right to Read Act of 2023 and thanks Senator Reed, Representative Grijalva and their staff for recognizing that an effective school library is essential for student success,” Lester said in a statement. “AASL believes that all students have the right to read freely and deserve equitable access to a school library staffed by a state-certified school librarian. Administrators, teachers, parents and students rely on school librarians for access to professionally curated resources that meet the needs of the entire learning community. Just as importantly, certified school librarians create a welcoming environment for all students, develop a school-wide culture of reading, teach information literacy and digital literacy skills, and lead meaningful technology integration in their schools."