New Right to Read Bill Expands School Library Access, Students’ Rights to Read

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

New legislation has been introduced that would expand access to school libraries and codify student First Amendment Rights. The Right to Read Act (S. 5064 and H.R. 9056), introduced by Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed and Arizona Representative Raúl Grijalva, would put a certified school librarian in every public school library across the country.

Among the Right to Read Act provisions:

  • Up to $500 million in Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grants
  • An increase in the Innovative Approaches to Literacy Program to $100 million
  • A concerted investment in the recruitment, training, and retaining of certified school librarians
  • Reaffirming student First Amendment Rights to access school library materials, with expanded liability protection for teachers and school librarians.

The final piece is a direct response to the increase in book challenges and bans across the United States. These bans specifically target books by and about queer people and people of color, and it aims to help protect professionals experiencing these assaults on student First Amendment Rights, their own professional knowledge, and local legislation threatening outrageous fines and jail time for providing such materials.

“Literacy is the cornerstone of a high-quality education in every society, yet today we are seeing our nation’s children subjected to politically led efforts to block access to books. Censoring our education system based on bias is national travesty.” said Rep. Grijalva in the press release for the Right to Read Act. “We must ensure that our school libraries are equipped to empower and engage students from every background which is why I am proud to introduce the Right to Read Act with Senator Reed. This legislation will support the development of effective school libraries, including recruitment and retention of librarians, and provide federal funding for literacy resources in high need communities. This bill will also help protect the right to access diverse, inclusive school library collections. Together, we will build and develop effective school libraries with diverse and robust resources to deliver positive and formative opportunities for students.”

Introduced October 6, the bill has been praised by groups like the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians. The Right to Read Act addresses the inequities to information and information professionals across the country. A reported 2.5 million students are currently in public schools without a certified school librarian, while 30% of all public school students do not have access to a full-time school librarian. According to the press release for the Right to Read Act, access to a school librarian results in 73% higher literacy rates for students, and the impact is even greater for low income, minority, and disabled students.

“Quality teaching and effective school libraries go hand-in-hand with securing the right to read for our students.  We know that literacy is key to unlocking opportunity and success,” said Senator Reed in the Right to Read Act press release. “The Right to Read Act is about making sure that low-income, minority, children with disabilities, and English language learners have equal access to that opportunity through high quality, appropriately staffed school libraries and diverse and inclusive reading materials both at school and at home.”

Although the bill is a positive step in the right direction for building more equitable access to public education and a positive step toward curtailing our current book banning climate, the reality is the bill will likely see no action through the end of the year. The midterm elections and a lame duck Congress mean it will likely wait until 2023 to see any action on the floor.

That said, the Right to Read Act should be impetus for electing pro-education, pro-library, anti-censorship advocates into positions of federal, state, and local positions in this upcoming vote. This bill would be a boon for public education and First Amendment Right protections.