(NEW YORK)—This week, Texas State Rep. Tom Oliverson introduced HB 338, a bill that would create a state-mandated rating system for books in school libraries. Under the proposed legislation, publishers would be required to assign specific age ratings to all books sold to school districts and open-enrollment charter schools in Texas. State agencies could direct publishers to amend any of these age ratings, and if publishers failed to comply, school districts would subsequently be barred from purchasing any books from them. The bill would also require ratings to be “affixed to the cover” of each book.

In response to this legislation, PEN America issued the following statement:

“This is a dangerous escalation in the movement to censor public education. In a very short time, those who advocate for school censorship have gone from trying to control what can be studied and read to trying to control the decisions by private companies about what to publish in the first place.

A ratings system like that proposed in this bill would concentrate unprecedented power in the hands of government officials to dictate the bounds of what all students and families can read, learn, and share–in ways that are deeply undemocratic. Such a system would inherently contain subjective and potentially politicized decisions. It would be a recipe for publishers to play it safe and take a wide berth around anything remotely controversial. It could leave students with only the most anodyne educational materials.

Publishers already assign age-relevant categories such as picture book, easy reader, middle grade, and young adult to identify the target audience for children’s literature. And, as with ratings for films and music, this is a system developed and adopted by the industry itself.

In contrast, forcing a legislatively-mandated rating system on publishers under threat of punishment and subject to government override is a clear effort to intimidate publishers and police the circulation of ideas and information. The mere introduction of this censorious legislation is chilling, putting publishers and educators on notice that the government is closely monitoring them, and gearing up to punish speech with which it disagrees.

Schools and libraries work best when they are places of inquiry and exploration. This is an alarming proposal to let the state dictate those horizons.”


House Bill 338, filed by Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, would:

– Require publishers to assign content ratings to books that they want to sell to schools. The scores, which function similar to movie ratings, would place restrictions on which books students can access depending on their age. Ratings must be affixed to the front of books.

– If the ratings are not deemed proper, the state can challenge them, assign the book a new rating, and the publisher has 120 days to comply, or recall all copies and stop selling the book in Texas

– Publishers who do not comply will go on a list, and schools will be banned from buying from those publishers.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057