Texas County to Consider Shutting Down Library After Book Ban Ruling

From Publisher’s Weekly:

After a federal judge ordered the return of more than a dozen books improperly pulled from the Llano County Public Library shelves for their content, the county’s commissioners have called a special meeting for April 13 to discuss shutting the library down altogether.

According to a notice and agenda posted to the Llano County website, the Llano County Commissioners Court has set a meeting to discuss whether to “continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County Library System,” the continued employment of library staff, and the “feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”

A tweet from the American Library Association’s Unite Against Book Bans account shared news of the meeting, and urged local library supporters to contact their local officials to support the library and to show up to the special meeting to advocate for their library. ALA officials say Unite Against Book Bans and ALA will continue to work closely with the Texas Library Association to support “at-risk library workers” in Llano County, as well as with Texans for the Right to Read and other Texas activists “who are on the front lines of the fight to protect every person’s right to read in Llano County and across the state of Texas.”

Closing the library would be an extreme reaction, notes ALA’s Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“Rather than return twelve 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,” Caldwell-Stone said, “simply to prevent anyone from reading certain books that these officials don’t ever have to read.”

The new developments come after a federal judge found that the library board in Llano County likely infringed the constitutional rights of readers in the community 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,” and found that the evidence presented in the case showed that county officials illegally “targeted and removed books, including well-regarded, prize-winning books, based on complaints that the books were inappropriate.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG did a little research and determined that Llano, Texas, is a small rural town – about 3500 people – that is located about 65-70 miles from the state capital, Austin.

When PG says small town, Llano has what appears to be a struggling newspaper that includes stories and photos of the local high school athletic teams and contestants for the annual Rodeo Queen contest. The town is surrounded by ranches raising livestock and and doing crop farming.

The population of Llano is about 80% white, including descendants of early German settlers, 15-17% Latino – mostly Mexican – with a sprinkling of a few other races.

PG expects that the library lawsuit was probably the biggest thing Llano (and Llano County) had experienced in a very long time. He doesn’t know if the county paid for its legal representation in the lawsuit or if some or all of its litigation expenses were covered by some type of insurance.

The honor of serving on the King’s Island Library Board sounds like a post that doesn’t attract very many candidates. While a federal lawsuit was certainly a source of a lot of publicity, PG suspects that the members of the County Library Board found that dealing with out of town reporters who regarded them as hicks from the sticks and spending time talking with the Library Board’s attorney during the runup to the trial was not what they had in mind when they decided it was their civic duty to support the local library.

PG found an article from TheDailyTrib.com (covering the news from Marble Falls, Burnet, Kingsland, Llano, Spicewood, Horseshoe Bay, and ALL of the Highland Lakes) that described what appears to be the current situation:

Closing the three libraries in the Llano County Library System will not affect the Little v. Llano County lawsuit, which will move forward, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs. Also, Llano County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Don Moss and Library Advisory Board Vice-chairman Bonnie Wallace still will have to appear before the court as ordered by a U.S. District judge on April 27 or face possible sanctions.

“We will continue to see a permanent injunction against censoring books in case they ever reopen the library,” said Katherine Chiarello of Wittliff Cutter law firm in Austin, when asked about what would happen if the libraries were closed. 

Llano County commissioners are meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 13, to discuss that possibility. According to the agenda, they will meet in executive session to also discuss “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 county’s four commissioners and County Judge Ron Cunningham are holding the special meeting in response to an order enjoining the county to return 17 books to library shelves and the digital catalog system. The books were back in circulation on March 31. 

In a different ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, ordered Moss and Wallace to appear in person at 10 a.m. April 27. The two did not appear for depositions on March 22 and 27, respectively. They could face sanctions that would include contempt of court charges, rendering a default judgment against the disobedient parties, or paying expenses accrued, including attorney fees, for missing the scheduled appointments. 

The U.S. District Court does not have a say in whether the libraries should remain open, but people supporting the libraries can have an impact, according to Chiarello.

“The citizens of Llano can make themselves heard,” she said. “It is un-American, it is against the rule of law, and it is not good for the people of Llano County to be deprived of the many services the library offers to the community.” 

People on both sides of the issue plan to show up in force at the meeting, which is being held in the Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 courtroom, 2001 Texas 16 North in Llano. The small room holds about 40 people and is often crowded, even when a meeting is not controversial. 

“I am aware that several people are very upset by this,” said Leila Green Little, one of seven plaintiffs in the case. “I think there will be a big turnout.” 

Buchanan Dam resident Wayne Shipley is also upset over the issue, but for different reasons. He plans to be there and hopes to speak during public comment. He, too expects a big crowd to overflow the small courtroom. 

“I was taken by surprise that the county is having to look at this step,” he told DailyTrib.com. “Seems to me this issue is being forced by the plaintiffs. It’s not about banning books. The books in question are explicitly pornographic in nature. They should not be available for children to pick up off the shelves.” 

Shipley did agree that not all 17 books listed fit in that category, including one about the Ku Klux Klan, another about the caste system, and a children’s series about farting animals and imaginary figures.

“Those aren’t the ones driving the issue,” he said. “I think those are put in there to blur the issue.” 

PG is sympathetic with residents of Llano who get upset by being ordered by a Federal District Judge to show up in court in Austin to be potentially held in contempt of court and/or ordered to pay attorneys fees to a relatively large law firm (17 attorneys) in Austin. PG’s quick and dirty research into the fees charged by Austin attorneys leads him to believe that they’ll be about $300 per hour.

The quote from one of the attorneys on the winning side was, in PG’s personal legal judgement, really stupid:

“We will continue to see a permanent injunction against censoring books in case they ever reopen the library,” said Katherine Chiarello of Wittliff Cutter law firm in Austin, when asked about what would happen if the libraries were closed. 

PG has gone way farther along this trail than he should have, however, here is his last point.

PG just checked and the average per capita income in Llano County is a little over $44,000 per year. That translates to about $12 per hour. PG suspects that very few people living in Llano County, including the lawyers who practice there, earn $300 per hour, which is likely in the general range that the the Austin law firm will seek in the form of attorneys fees should the federal judge decides to hold anyone in contempt of court.

14 thoughts on “Texas County to Consider Shutting Down Library After Book Ban Ruling”

  1. There are some really good BBQ places there that give the Austin joints a run for their money.

    Llanolite is only found in the local area and is unusual in that it contains blue quartz and Enchanted Rock Park is a great place to visit.

    All in all, a nice little Texas town with nice people that don’t cotton to big city folks telling them what to do.

  2. If there’s a “permanent injunction” against censorship, then the librarian will have to be held in contempt of court for violating it. Every day, librarians choose which titles to purchase, which to borrow through services like Baker & Taylor, and which not to circulate through the library at all.

    These acts of selection can necessarily become censorship when certain demographics, whether well-represented or not, are quietly or loudly overlooked. Kirk Cameron claims to have been banned from multiple libraries for having written a Christian children’s book, which librarians deem “non-inclusive”; yet these same librarians openly welcome LGBTQ+ activists to their programs for children under 8. I’m willing to bet there are more Christians in the US than TQ+ activists, which means librarians are choosing to ignore the vast majority of the people who fund the library while they cater to a small minority.

    Another example comes from one of my local libraries, which has two or three shelves in the non-fiction section on race and race relations. One day as I was passing by these shelves, I decided to see what views were represented by a simple title count. I was appalled to find a dozen and a half books representing a radical (some might say “extreme”) leftist view, and only three representing any other viewpoint. When the average reader interested in such subjects meanders along, looking for information to expand their horizons, how well-informed will they become with such an uneven selection to choose from? How many will think to do more than a quick Wikipedia search for more information? IME, almost none.

    Thus has censorship come to rural America, without fanfare or ceremony, merely through the beliefs of and budgetary constraints placed upon the librarian.

    Public library supporters (and supposed opponents of banning books) never, ever, not in a million years mention this glaring problem when they gush over the “community services” libraries offer. Nor do they ever mention this fact: that public libraries are supported by tax dollars and, thus, their holdings and services should reflect the values and needs of those folks, not outsiders busily forcing their own opinions and values on everyone else.

  3. How wonderful for the (g-d d-mn) bullies to prove yet again they can beat up on the little guy. That attorney’s statement wasn’t only (or even) stupid, PG, it was gloating. I hope she choked on her champagne during the victory celebration.

    • This whole situation reminds me of the fight to shut down SPACEX’s R&D facility down in deepest darkest Texas that was hiring (on very well paying jobs) over ten thousand people from Brownsville, literally the poorest city in the country, over “gentrifying” the region. Musk shrugged and simply duplicated the facility in Florida. Cheaper than fighting a county official trying to overturn a previous admistration’s deal.

      It’s folks that never get out blythely waving off other people’s viewd and physical *needs* becuse, in their mind, they’re not right-thinking real people.

      In this case they wave off that they are forcing a town of 3500 to spend more fighting the biases of 7 ideologues than it costs to fund the library system.

  4. This is one of the times when it becomes obvious that the people in the local government have not availed themselves of the library’s services, because if they had they might have the self-awareness to ask themselves if this the sort of the thing the villains in a badly-written morality play would do.

    • What? They’re the villains because an activist group doesn’t like which books their library chooses to buy and circulate, and is suing them into the ground for it?

      Way to pick a side there.

      • One might be a bit more sympathetic to the plaintiff position where it not because the county:
        “median income for a household in the county was $34,830, and for a family was $40,597. Males had a median income of $30,839 versus $21,126 for females. The per capita income for the county was $23,547. About 7.2% of families and 10.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.2% of those under age 18 and 6.0% of those age 65 or over.”

        Also it is 80% republican and likely to be more so given the numbers cited in the OP, and the out of county deep pocketed activists brought in along with their legal eagles to punish the county, not to look for any kind of compromise.

        Not that either side bothers to look for compromise in these kinds of catfights. The only acceptable solution these days is to grind the opposition into dust.
        (“They started it.” “No, you did.” “You did…”)


      • “We’re going to shut down the only source of free books available to the people of our county because of a bunch of arrogant twerps” is absolutely the kind of thing the villains in a badly-written morality play would do.

        I don’t have a lot of sympathy for either party, frankly. They both sound like little tin gods.

  5. If they can’t have the ball, they’ll just grab it and go home.

    And I do not mean the children who might be harmed by other children having access to material in the library collection that suggests merely being nonconformist is not a trigger for the end of the universe. I mean the children over the age of 18 here…

    • The money they save will be significant in the post-trial aftermath. It’s not like the town has a speed trap raining cash. Catfights are never cheap.

  6. I think we have been told librarians have rights which include shelves that reflect their personal beliefs, and freedom from oversight. Therefore, the library can’t be shut down.

    • Even if it means no PD or fire station or EMT. Check.
      You just have to squeeze the other 3493 residents for every last cent they earn to support the monoculture. Everybody must abide by one viewpoint. Or else. Cause money grows on trees. Or in other people’s pockets.

      The plaintiffs might have a better case in downtown Austin or the Bronx than in a rural Texas town without deep pockets.

      Actions breed reaction and tolerance only goes so far.
      Nothing good will come of this.

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