After a hastily called meeting (and with a crowd of library supporters rallying outside) Llano County Commissioners on Thursday decided not to pursue the closure of the county’s public libraries—at least for now.
After calling a special meeting this week to discuss whether to “continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County Library System” in the wake of a recent federal decision ordering more than a dozen books be returned to library shelves, the county commissioners voted to table their discussion of the library’s future.
But in a statement released after the meeting, reported by the Texas Tribune, Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham lamented that “a public library simply cannot function if its librarians, county judge, commissioners, and even the volunteers who serve out the goodness of their heart, can be sued every time a library patron disagrees with a librarian’s ‘weeding’ decision," and vowed to continue to fight for the right to ban books in the courts.
The drama in Llano County comes after a federal judge on March 30 found that the library board in Llano County infringed the constitutional rights of library users by unilaterally removing books it deemed inappropriate.
In a 26-page decision, judge Robert Pitman affirmed that "the First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination,” said that the facts clearly showed that county officials were not engaged in a mere “weeding” exercise, as Cunningham suggested in his statement, but instead had illegally "targeted and removed books” based on complaints that the books were offensive.
Pitman's preliminary injunction ordered county officials not to remove any books from library shelves while the litigation is ongoing, as well as to return to the library of more than a dozen books he concluded were “removed because of their viewpoint or content.”
Among those books ordered restored: 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; In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak; and My Butt is So Noisy! by Dawn McMillan. County officials have appealed Pitman’s order to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case, filed against the county by a group of local residents alarmed by efforts to remove books from library shelves, began on April 25, 2022. “When government actors target public library books because they disagree with and intend to suppress the ideas contained within them, it jeopardizes the freedoms of everyone,” the complaint states. The case is on track for an October trial.
Meanwhile, the decision of Llano County commissioners to put the future of the library up for discussion generated national headlines.
"Rather than return 12 books to the library’s collection that reflect the lives and experiences of LGTQIA+ and BIPOC persons, the members of the Llano County Commission and its Library Board are prepared to fire the dedicated staff of the Llano County Library System and deny Llano County residents access to all the information and community services that the library staff provides," warned ALA's Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. "Simply to prevent anyone from reading certain books that these officials don’t ever have to read."
In a tweet yesterday from the ALA’s Unite Against Book Bans account, ALA officials, who helped organize a response to the county's action, praised local library advocates for showing up to support their library. “#UniteAgainstBookBans is grateful to those who spoke up for the freedom to read today in Llano County,” the tweet said. “This is the power of organizing as a community.”
According to the Texas Tribune, “roughly 100 Central Texans had shown up at the county building to voice their frustration with local officials and their passion for the library.” And while they expressed relief that the library would stay open in the short term, they remained wary of what might happen in the long term.
“I think we better be really damn vigilant,” one supporter told the Tribune, “or we’ll be back here in a couple of months.”