According to a recent report from PEN America, Texas continues to lead the nation in book bans. So it’s fitting that one of the most important lawsuits in defense of the freedom to read in decades will now play out in the Lone Star State. As we reported this week for Publishers Weekly, a coalition of booksellers and book industry advocacy groups has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to strike down a controversial new law in Texas that would require “library material vendors” to create and implement a rating system for books sold into Texas schools and school libraries based on the book's “sexual” content.

Signed into law by Texas governor Greg Abbott on June 12, the law—dubbed the READER Act by its Republican supporters—has been a major cause of concern since its inception last year. But the July 26 suit filed in Texas is just one of number actions in what is shaping up to be something of a mounting legal counteroffensive by freedom to read advocates.

In February, the ACLU joined with librarians in Missouri to file a federal suit over Senate Bill 775, a school library obscenity law that opponents say forces librarians to censor their collections under the "threat of arbitrary enforcement of imprisonment or fines."

In May, PEN America and Penguin Random House joined forces with a group of authors and parents to sue school administrators in Escambia County, Florida, over the removal of allegedly inappropriate books from school libraries.

And last month, a library-led coalition of 18 plaintiffs, including the same industry associations suing in Texas, filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new Arkansas law, Act 372, that would, among its provisions, expose librarians and booksellers to criminal liability for making allegedly inappropriate books accessible to minors.

The Arkansas law is set to take effect on August 1. But watch the news, because a federal judge is expected to rule at any moment on a motion to block the law from taking effect after oral arguments were heard on July 25. In the Arkansas Advocate, Tess Vrbin has a report on the nearly five hour hearing. "John Adams, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, told U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks on Tuesday that the law creates a 'content-based restriction' on librarians’ speech, violating the First Amendment. Adams also argued that the law is unclear about how librarians can avoid criminal charges," Vrbin reports. "The lead attorney for the state’s defense, Noah Watson of the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, argued that the state has a certain amount of power to limit speech in the interest of protecting children from harm."

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette also has coverage of the oral arguments, which suggests that the court had some tough questions for the state about the law's vague and overly broad standard. "[Judge] Brooks said the law appeared to force prosecutors in a criminal case involving a librarian or bookseller to use what's harmful to a kindergartner as a standard for what is harmful to minors under the law, even if the content was not harmful to a 17-year-old," the paper reported.

In Washington, The Olympian reports on the public's rejection of a potential book-rating system for the Timberland Regional Library system. "The public comment was triggered by the Lewis County Commission, which recently sent a letter to the county’s library board trustees suggesting the library create new policies delineating age-appropriate books and other printed materials," including a rating system, the report notes. "However, no one agreed with the Lewis County Commission during public comment at the Wednesday library board meeting. 'If you see a book with content you don’t agree with, don’t read it, but please don’t tell me I can’t,' said Laura Hewett of Chehalis."

Houston Public Media reports on the fallout from a plan by new Houston ISD superintendent Mike Miles to "eliminate librarians at dozens of schools" and turn the libraries into "multi-use spaces where misbehaving students will be disciplined." Librarian and media specialist positions are being eliminated at 28 campuses under the plan, the article notes, with the plan drawing sharp criticism from city leaders, including Mayor Sylvester Turner. Miles appears to be standing by his plan, however. "On Wednesday night, after Turner and a few city council members voiced their opposition to the plan for libraries, Miles wrote a letter to Turner that was publicized by HISD," the report notes. "The new superintendent invited the mayor to tour some of the NES campuses once the school year starts in August, so Turner could “see firsthand the unique attributes of this model and its ability to support student achievement.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on how some Missouri libraries are beginning to curb library access in the wake of secretary of state Jay Ashcroft's new 'harmful for minors' rule in the state (which certainly appears ripe for a legal challenge of its own). "Under new Missouri regulations, libraries have until Monday to show that they comply with the State Library, which is under the secretary of state’s office. If libraries don’t tweak policies to adhere to the rules, they could lose funding from the state," the report notes. Some libraries are acting cautiously by cutting off access entirely for some older teens. Others are opting to keep serving their patrons. "Waller McGuire, director of the St. Louis Public Library, said the area’s three large library systems relied on the same legal advice and were told they could keep their current cards. If parents or guardians want to change a child’s library use, they can either tear up a card or monitor all library check-outs themselves. In addition, library use through school partnerships will not be revoked unless a parent cancels a student’s access."

Bearing the brunt of the anger is the library’s staff and its 15-member, all-volunteer Board of Trustees, who include a retired Air Force general, a lawyer, an accountant, parents, grandparents, churchgoers and home-schoolers

Leading off her weekly censorship column for Book Riot, Kelly Jensen offers a great breakdown of why creating age-restricted library cards is a bad compromise for libraries facing pressure from book banners in their community. "[These] age-restricted cards are opening up the potential for endless lawsuits at public libraries," Jensen writes. "Although it is parents/guardians who will determine what card is appropriate for their child, that is where the parental responsibility ends. Now, every decision afterward falls explicitly on the public library."

The Washington Post has a piece on the battle over library policies in Front Royal, Virginia. "In recent years, clashes over whether to ban books—part of a national movement of parental grievance against cultural change in education—have largely played out in school libraries in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Now the issue is spreading to public libraries, too," the article notes. "In Front Royal, the library’s opponents accuse it of terrible violations of the social order, of sexualizing and brainwashing children. Bearing the brunt of the anger is the library’s staff and its 15-member, all-volunteer Board of Trustees, who include a retired Air Force general, a lawyer, an accountant, parents, grandparents, churchgoers and home-schoolers."

The local Sun reports that the book banners have come for some Dakota County (Minnesota) libraries, but that community members are standing up to efforts to remove books after consideration and public comment. "The nation’s culture wars have reached the Dakota County Library system, where challenges to books have risen and more than 150 people packed a July 13 meeting of the county’s Library Advisory Committee," the report notes, adding that "the crowded meeting" was preceded in June by "a series of direct action protests against Pride Month displays and events, including letters specifically decrying LGBTQ+ inclusion.”

In Wyoming, the Gillette News Record reports that the board is pressuring the director to simply pull allegedly inappropriate books from library shelves. "At a board meeting Monday, some of the board members suggested that library staff begin weeding books that are 'egregious' in their sexual content," the report notes. But when the library director correctly questioned the legality of such a move, a board member suggested that "she should find another job.” reports that a Republican legislator proposed to strip $5 million in state funding from the Alabama Department of Archives and History because it hosted "a one-hour lecture on LGBTQ history." The measure failed. "But the sponsor, Sen. Chris Elliott, a Republican from Baldwin County, said he plans to bring legislation next year that he said would make Archives and History more accountable to taxpayers and responsive to legislators," the report notes. "Elliott said he believes the LGBTQ history lecture clashed with what most people in Alabama believe is appropriate for a state agency and that Archives and History Director Steve Murray should have cancelled it after he and other lawmakers raised objections."

And finally this week, the Biden Administration announced new proposed rules ahead of 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act that would improve online access to state and local services, which would certainly include library services, for nearly 50 million people with vision, hearing, cognitive, and manual dexterity disabilities. "Clearer standards will both ensure that people with disabilities can access vital services and make it easier for states and localities to understand their ADA obligations," a White House Fact sheet notes. "The proposed rule will move us toward a more inclusive nation through equal access to crucial state and local services."

The Week in Libraries is a weekly opinion and news column. News, tips, submissions, questions or comments are welcome, and can be submitted via email. Previous columns can be viewed here.