Leaders of a rural Texas County held a special session on Thursday, but chose not to take the drastic step of closing their public library. Instead, they listened to a federal court's order that books be returned to the shelves addressing themes such as teen sexuality, gender and racism.
After receiving public comments for and against the possibility of a shutdown, the Llano County Commissioners Court removed the item from its agenda. This ensured that the three libraries in the county would remain open.
"We will take this to the courts and not on social media or in the news media," said Llano County judge Ron Cunningham. Cunningham is the head of the commissioners court in Llano County, Texas, and one of the defendants who was sued by library patrons a year earlier.
In recent years, there have been a number of efforts to ban books in the United States amid the escalating culture wars.
The meeting was called following a temporary injunction granted by U.S. district judge Robert Pitman last month, which ordered that almost 20 books returned to the library shelves.
Deborah Caldwell Stone, Director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom said that this was the first time she had heard of officials considering closing down a system.
The lawsuit claims that beginning in 2021 the defendants started using different tactics to keep patrons from getting their hands on certain books. This included moving books for children they didn't like into the adult section and temporarily suspending the use of their digital libraries. The lawsuit also claimed that steps included dissolving the previous library board, and then filling it with appointees. This included many who had pushed for the system to prohibit books.
Other defendants include four county commissioners, current library director, and new members of library board.
Bonnie Wallace is one of the newly elected library board members. She spoke at the meeting on Thursday. Wallace, who believes that there are over 200 more books which should be banned, is among those who have read out explicit sex scenes in books currently on the shelf.
Wallace said: 'I'm in favor of temporarily closing the libraries until we can find a way to deal with the filthy pornography we have.
James Arno of the Resident James Arno who supports keeping libraries open said that parents can monitor their children's reading habits without denying others access.
Arno said, "It's our job not to burn down this thing in order to stop kids from reading the material that these people read," referring to explicit materials read out loud at the meeting. It's up to the parents to know what their children are interested in.
Caldwell Stone said that the books targeted by Llano County are in line with trends being seen across the country. She said, 'The demands we are seeing are to remove any books that reflect LGBTQIA people's lives or experiences, as well as those of people of color in general, and Black people specifically.'
Books that were kept off of the shelves include "Caste: the Origins of our Discontent" by Isabel Wilkerson; "They Called Themselves The K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group," by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; and, "In the Night Kitchen" by Maurice Sendak. Also, there are books such as, It's Perfectly Natural: Changing Bodies and Growing Up, Sexual Health and Sex, by Robie Harris, and, "Being Jazz
Other picture books were for children, including "Larry the Farting Leprechaun" by Jane Bexley or "My Butt is So Noisy!" Dawn McMillan.
Caldwell Stone said that these books are great for promoting early literacy, and reading.
The ALA compiled over 1,200 challenges last year. This was the highest number since the association started keeping records more than 20 years ago. The number for 2022 was almost double that of the previous record total from 2021.
Conservatives of note have taken notice of the uproar in Llano County. Jonathan Mitchell is the attorney for the county. He was the architect of the Texas anti-abortion laws in 2021, which were briefly the most strict in the nation before the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade.
Mitchell, who appealed the order of the judge in the library case argued that plaintiffs' claims about their First Amendment rights being violated "cannot get off to a good start" because the books are currently available for check-out through the library's "in-house" system.
The judge stated in his order, however, that the public would not be able to access the books if they were hidden in the back of a room or absent from the catalogue.
Pitman wrote: 'This, of course is an obvious and deliberate effort by Defendants in order to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Plaintiffs to access the material they seek.