Seven residents in Llano County, Texas, are suing county officials, claiming their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when books deemed inappropriate by some people in the community and Republican lawmakers were removed from public libraries or access was restricted.
This county of 21,000 people in the Texas Hill Country is now part of the growing number of communities in the United States where conservative groups and individuals have pushed to control what titles people have access to and singled out books that deal with race, gender or sexuality.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in US District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, claims county officials removed books from the shelves of the three-branch public library system “because they disagree with the ideas within them” and terminated access to thousands of digital books because they could not ban two specific titles.
“Public libraries are not places of government indoctrination. They are not places where the people in power can dictate what their citizens are permitted to read about and learn. 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 lawsuit states.
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In the lawsuit, Leila Green Little, a mother who lives in Llano County, and the other six plaintiffs argue that county officials removed several children’s books last August in response to complaints from a group of community members who described them as inappropriate. Those titles include “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris.
Months later, Texas Rep. Matt Krause launched an inquiry into whether 850 books on the subjects of race or sex that might “make students feel discomfort” were in public school libraries and classrooms. The lawsuit says Wallace eventually sent a spreadsheet with the books from that list that were available in Llano County library’s collection.
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Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Library Association, said she hopes the lawsuit inspires people in other communities to speak up.
“It is a shame that this unnecessary culture war has led to this, but we applaud the efforts of these individuals to utilize the justice system to speak up and say with a clear voice ‘enough is enough,'” Robinson said. “We didn’t ask for this fight, but we’re certainly not going to lay down and let subjective opinion and politics restrict the freedom to read.”
In a recent analysis, PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, found that 1,145 books were banned in communities across the United States from July 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022. The majority of those bans involved departures from best practices established by National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Library Association regarding how books and instructional materials should be challenged in schools and libraries, the group said.
For Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, the lawsuit in Llano County could have a significant impact on the current climate and serve as a reminder of the constitutional protections that people around the country have.
Friedman told CNN there has been “a kind of abrogation of duty” to uphold the First Amendment and there has been “very little resistance” from officials when there are demands to remove materials from school or public libraries.
“Whether that’s in the school board or whether that’s in a library, somebody wants something gone and it appears to be going. At their meetings, there’s no resistance, there’s no friction, there’s no one in some of these rooms saying ‘well, hold on a minute, let’s make sure we exercise due diligence, due process, consider the kind of diversity of opinions as people who our institution serves,'” Friedman said.
Link to the rest at CNN
PG suggests that, regardless of one’s personal opinions about the library battles involving public school and community libraries in various parts of the United States, such strident disagreements are not good for the welfare of such libraries moving forward.
Schools and public libraries have budgets, generally set by one or more groups of elected officials. Budgets for public libraries can be cut to the point that such libraries become unable to serve their patrons or would-be patrons either completely or in any meaningful way.
If librarians decide to choose other ways of earning their living or move to other locations where turmoil is not a feature of their working lives, there is not a guarantee that replacements will be found.