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December 14, 2023

Pressley Unveils Bill to Confront Rise in Book Bans, Ensure Inclusive Learning Environments

2022-2023 School Year Had 3,000+ Instances of Books Banned Across 33 States

After Announcing Bill on House Floor, Pressley Hosted Timely Convening With Authors, Educators, and Advocates at Library of Congress

Bill Text | Bill Summary | Floor Speech | Roundtable | Photos

WASHINGTON — With the rise of book bans nationwide, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) unveiled the Books Save Lives Act to help ensure an inclusive learning environment and counteract the harm of book bans across the country. Rep. Pressley unveiled the legislation in a floor speech earlier today, and later convened authors, advocates, and educators at the Library of Congress to discuss the negative impact book bans have on learning environments for vulnerable students.

According to estimates, more than 3,000 books were banned in the 2022-2023 school year, a 33% increase from the previous school year. These bans overwhelmingly target books about race and racism, as well as books with LGBTQ+ characters.

“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. “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. 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.”

The Books Save Lives Act would counteract the rise in book bans and help ensure an inclusive learning environment for all students. Specifically, the legislation would:

  • 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; and
  • Direct the Government Accountability Office to report on the effect of book bans on underrepresented communities.

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).

The legislation is endorsed by We Need Diverse Books, PFLAG National, Florida Freedom to Read Project, Color Of Change, EveryLibrary, National Education Association, and Human Rights Campaign.

“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.

“As book bans have spread nationwide, they have disproportionately targeted books with BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ characters. 30 percent of recently banned books featured LGBTQIA+ characters or themes while 30 percent featured characters of color or themes on race. This is why We Need Diverse Books established the Books Save Lives initiative in 2022 to directly address the alarming rise of censorship, and this is also why we welcome the introduction of the Books Save Lives Act, sponsored by Congresswoman Pressley. This legislation is critically needed to ensure that school libraries reflect the diversity of our world and to combat the book banning movement that has already removed thousands of diverse titles from school shelves. BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ children are especially vulnerable to self-harm and have some of the highest rates of attempted suicide in the country. When these kids cannot see themselves in the books that they read, they learn the powerful lesson that their stories and their lives don’t matter. We must not only protect the freedom to read, we must also protect the children who need diverse stories the most—because we know that books save lives,” said Caroline Rihmond, We Need Diverse Books.

“Banning books and education is an organized and funded effort that the Books Save Lives Act will put in check. PFLAG National is proud to endorse the Books Save Lives Act because every person deserves the joy that comes when you can find, learn, and be inspired by books about all kinds of topics and people,” said Brian K. Bond, CEO, PFLAG National

“Florida Freedom to Read Project is proud to support this bill which 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, Florida Freedom to Read Project.

A copy of the bill text can be found here, and a summary is here. Footage from the floor speech can be found here. Footage from the roundtable is here and photos are here.

Earlier this year, during Banned Books Week, Rep. Pressley visited the Turner Free Library in Randolph, Massachusetts to discuss the growing threat of book bans across the country and the need for accessible, representative literature. Rep. Pressley was joined at the roundtable by librarians, educators, and community members from Randolph and Milton. In April 2022 in a House Oversight Committee, Rep. Pressley discussed how banning books in schools harms future generations.