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Book ban lifted in Llano County in federal judge ruling leads to discussion on keeping library open

A special meeting for the commissioners' court will discuss the "feasibility" of keeping the library open to the public and the employment of staff.

LLANO COUNTY, Texas — A federal judge has ruled that officials in Llano County must return several books that were removed and put on a ban list. These books will soon be available for people to check out again from the public library.

In 2022, seven Llano County library patrons sued the county judge, commissioners court, library board members and county library system for restricting and banning books. According to the lawsuit, the patrons stated that the group was "infringing their First Amendment right to access and receive ideas by restricting access to certain books based on their messages and content."

Additionally, the lawsuit alleged that the book bans occurred without any prior notice to the public – something the patrons stated "violated their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process." The patrons asked for an injunction to return the books to the library system and allow the public to access them once again.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pittman in the Fifth Circuit granted a partial injunction, with the court only dismissing the claims relating to the cancellation of the online database for the libraries. Pittman ordered the officials to return all banned books to the library system and allow them to be findable in the database and to halt officials from removing any further books until the lawsuit is settled. 

Pittman stated in his opinion that the plaintiffs are "suffering an actual, ongoing injury" in relation to their First and 14th Amendments being infringed. But because the group did not provide which books the group objected to on the online database, Pittman stated that the claim of getting rid of the original online database is moot – the group replaced it with a new one. 

Following the lawsuit, the Llano County Commissioners' Court is holding a special meeting on April 13 at 3 p.m. to discuss whether or not the library system will be able to continue operations. The discussion will include deciding if the employees in the system will remain employed and the "feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public," according to the agenda.

In the 26-page suit, Pittman provided the background leading up to the lawsuit and his subsequent decision. 

Before being added to the new library board, Rochelle Wells, Rhonda Schneider, Gay Baskin and Bonnie Wallace were part of a community group that pushed for the removal of children's books that they had deemed "inappropriate." The books included the "Butt and Fart Books" – which depicted bodily functions in a humorous, cartoon format – which the group believed to be "obscene and promoted 'grooming' behavior," according to the suit. 

When the group brought these complaints to Amber Milum, library director, she was directed by Commissioner Jerry Don Moss and County Judge Ron Cunningham to remove the books from shelves and delete access to the virtual copies. 

Milum would later delete and remove two more books in the following months due to "child grooming" complaints. 

By the fall of 2021, the same group would contact Cunningham again to complain about books that were "pornographic filth." These titles were listed in the dozens and related to LGBTQ acceptance and critical race theory.

Cunningham and Moss once again order Milum to pull books that contained "sexual activity or questionable nudity" from the shelves, in addition to those that were brought earlier, according to the suit. 

On December 13, 2021, the commissioners court approved of a 3-day library closure to review the library catalog. This would result in "labeling books and checking [the] shelves for 'inappropriate' books," the suit stated. Milum stated that the court did not define what appropriate meant and that the staff pulled books that the group deemed inappropriate. 

Also, on the same day, the court suspended access to the online database and replaced it with Bibliotheca, which provided access to some but not all books and dissolved the existing library board.

The board was replaced with a "Library Advisory Board," which created a policy that "all new books must be presented to and approved by the board before purchasing them," the lawsuit explained. All book purchases were stopped by the commissioners court in November 2021 and none have been purchased since. 

In January 2022, Milum was instructed by the board to not be at any meetings and, a month later, the entire staff of librarians were banned from these same meetings. The meetings were later closed to the public in March.

The decision in the suit states that the group made the physical books hidden from view and not findable in the online catalog, providing substance to the plaintiff's claims. An in-house checkout system "still places 'a significant burden on Library Patrons' ability to gain access to those books,'" the suit detailed.

Pittman later went on to describe the ruling from the Supreme Court that prevents public libraries from removing books from shelves due to having a disdain for the content. 

“The evidence demonstrates that, without an injunction, defendants will continue to make access to the subject books difficult or impossible,” Pitman wrote.

The following books will be returned to the shelves in all Llano County libraries:

  • Caste: The Origins of our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden
  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  • It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robie 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 is on the Loose; Freddie the Farting Snowman; and Harvey the Heart Has Too Many Farts by Jane Bexley
  • Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings
  • Shine; and Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle 
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  • Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

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