Education

The Woodlands Pride Will Open A Community Library Featuring LGBTQ & Other Narratives

Titles featured on the banned book shelve at Village Books.
Titles featured on the banned book shelve at Village Books. Photo by Teresa Kenney
What does one organization do when pro-censorship advocates and special interest groups spearheading widespread book removals in local-area school districts permeate into public libraries?

It opens its own library.

The Woodlands Pride, a nonprofit pride organization based in The Woodlands, will host its grand opening of The Woodlands Pride Community Library on Friday. Those in attendance can skim through about 300 titles that feature minority and LGBTQ narratives and display stories about different races, religions and cultures.

According to Rachel Walker, engagement specialist and chair of community outreach for The Woodlands Pride, the library will stock books such as Kwame Mbalia's Black Boy Joy and Martin Pistorius's Ghost Boy and other texts deemed controversial.

“These books have come from people in the community that have donated,” Walker said. “We’ve had other organizations that help with their own smaller book drives. People have given monetary donations, which we use to purchase brand-new books through Village Books.”

The library will be located in the back room of Village Books, owned by Teresa Kenney. Kenney and Walker discussed possibly creating the library after a Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting the two attended in late March.

The commissioners took action on a new policy by Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough that would remove librarians from The Montgomery County Memorial Library System’s book reconsideration committee and replace them with five commissioner-appointed residents.

The decision to replace these subject experts with members who were not required to meet any guidelines to be selected to review children's, adolescent and parenting texts passed on a 3-1 vote. Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley was the sole dissenter.

The Woodlands Pride had been collecting titles from a book drive they launched last summer in response to the rampant book challenges by nearby public school boards — notably Conroe ISD — and increased legislative attacks on LGBTQ youth.

The organization planned to donate these books to Montgomery County’s library system. However, its plans changed after the new policy was approved, and members were concerned that the titles may never make it onto the shelves.

“Afterward, when the vote didn’t go the way we wanted, we went out for coffee and kind of chatted,” Walker said. “We both had the idea that using those books and opening up a library would be a wonderful idea, and she [Kenney] offered her space so kindly.”

Village Books will house the library; however, the library is a separate entity and not tied to Kenney’s business. Those who want to donate books to the community library can purchase titles from a wish list curated by Kenney or contribute financially to The Woodlands Pride. The organization will use these funds to buy books from the store.

“For Village Books, it was important for us to do this to give a voice to those who others are trying to take their voices away. This was one way we could do that,” Kenney said. “Particularly, because if they are being removed from shelves in the libraries or school libraries, not everyone can go out and purchase them, and we recognize that, and they still should be accessible to them. That’s why it was important to us to ensure that all voices are respected, heard and honored.”

Kenney, a staunch anti-censorship and literacy supporter, has also fought back against book bans individually. Her store has a section that features titles removed from school districts locally and nationwide.

The community library will be accessible to the public during Village Books operating hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, except for Sunday, when the store opens at noon and closes at 5 p.m.

Walker said that the library will not be staffed until they determine the level of foot traffic it will attract. Instead, visitors can use the mobile app Libib — used by other nonprofits and teachers who catalog their classroom libraries — to check out and return titles.

Walker added that community members who want to donate books they have not purchased from Village Books can contact the media at thewoodlandspride.org to arrange a time for a volunteer to pick up the titles.

“We just hope that we can be a place that elevates the voices that it seems like outside influences are trying to silence,” Walker said.
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.