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Llano County weighs shutting down libraries to circumvent judge's order overturning book ban

Bookshelf in public library, front view, horizontal
Pawel_B/Getty Images
Bookshelf in public library, front view, horizontal

Llano County commissioners in the Texas Hill Country are weighing whether they will shut down their library system instead of complying with a federal judge’s order that they must return 17 banned books to the library shelves.

Officials scheduled a special meeting on Thursday during which they will discuss shutting down the three library branches. Their notice said that pending further guidance from the courts, “This action item will include discussion and action regarding the continued employment and/or status of the Llano County Library System employees and the feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”

The banned books, which include themes of LGBTQ+ identity and race, were removed last year without public input after Llano County officials declared them pornographic and sexually explicit.

The 17 books include:

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
  • They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden
  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  • It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robbie H. Harris
  • My Butt is So Noisy! I Broke My Butt! and I Need a New Butt! by Dawn McMillan
  • Larry the Farting Leprechaun, Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose, Freddie the Farting Snowman and Harvey the Heart Has Too Many Farts by Jane Bexley
  • Shine by Lauren Myracle
  • Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  • Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Seven parents sued the county last year for removing access to the books.

Federal Judge Robert Pitman ordered the 17 books to be returned to the shelves on March 30 because officials had targeted them for the ideas they contain. Supreme Court precedent bars book removal based on viewpoint discrimination.

So the county appealed, and on Thursday, Llano County Commissioners will meet to consider closing its libraries entirely rather than comply with the judge's order.

Shirley Robinson, the executive director of the Texas Library Association, said this should be a wake-up call for the 21,000 residents of Llano.

“The impact of costing employees their jobs there at the Llano County Library is going to really deprive residents of all sorts of services — not just access to books, but things like how to write a will, how to get a divorce, how to take care of a baby, or get a license, or learn English,” Robinson said.

She added that it should also be a wake-up call to people across the country, as this is part of a right-wing trend nationwide challenging and banning books, and harassing librarians

“What’s happened over the last couple of years has really shaken them to their core. We know that this really is an agenda that’s being propagated by a small vocal minority for political purposes. The very confidence of librarians has been called into question,” Robinson said.

Book bans and attempts to defund public libraries are taking place across the United States. Republican lawmakers in Missouri just passed a budget that doesn’t include funding for the state’s public libraries. Republican State Rep. Dirk Deaton said that these attempts are not book bans — rather they are “protecting innocent children.”

In 2022, the American Library Association reported 1,269 book challenges nationwide, the most since it started tracking them 20 years ago.

"Public libraries are not meant to serve particular ideological factions; they are meant to serve diverse communities, providing access to a wide range of knowledge and ideas. Closing the library system would be a violation of the core tenets of a free and open society," said Kasey Meehan, program director for the Freedom to Read project at Pen America.

“The proposal to close the Llano library system is not only an end-run to avoid complying with the District Court’s decision; it’s a vindictive response to the situation that is deeply undemocratic," Meehan said. “It would send an alarming message that county officials should have the power to pick and choose what books people can read, and to shutter a public institution if they get any pushback."

Kayla Padilla
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