The public library in Llano County, Texas, is closed for three days this week as librarians sort through books for children and young adults to see if they have supposedly objectionable content, including LGBTQ+ topics.
The closure is one consequence of challenges to library books in several Texas locales. Several public officials have expressed concern about certain books, including state Rep. Matt Krause and Gov. Greg Abbott.
Krause, a Republican who chairs the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, had sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency and several school districts in October asking them to identify books owned by the districts that deal with human sexuality or "contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."
He attached a list of 850 books, including volumes about LGBTQ+ history and identity, the civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter, feminism, and other social justice issues. Among the most prominent titles on the list were Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a graphic-novel version of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
Abbott responded by asking the Texas Education Agency to see whether schools offer "pornographic books." And while the letter did not address libraries, it likely influenced the challenges they are seeing. "I think it definitely ramped it up," Wendy Woodland, the Texas Library Association's director of advocacy and communication, told The Texas Tribune.
In Llano County, a central Texas county with a little over 20,000 residents, county commissioners and a local judge, Ron Cunningham, approved the closure, and they're also creating an advisory committee to review content.
"I think we owe it to all parents, regardless if it's a school library or a public library, to make sure that material is not inappropriate for children," Cunningham told the Tribune.
The closure, which began Tuesday and will be followed by a planned closure for Christmas, also means the library's online service, Overdrive, will be unavailable to residents. Six librarians will be going through the library's holdings, and they plan to create a new "young adults plus" section for books geared to older teens.
In another Texas location, the city of Victoria, the library board last week voted to keep 21 contested books on the shelves. In a public hearing on the matter in November, some residents "expressed concerns that books, which they consider pornographic, could be easily found by children in the library," according to the Victoria Advocate (no relation to this publication). "Others merely had objections to any books that portray LGBTQ relationships and people as normal." Some, however, praised the inclusion of LGBTQ+ content.
Cindy Herndon was among the residents who wanted certain books removed; one to which she objected was The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, "a coming-of-age novel about a mixed-race gay teen who becomes a drag artist," as described by the Tribune. Herndon told the Tribune the book appeared to "sexualize children, especially into alternate lifestyles, and make them want to be someone else than who they were born to be."
Woodland said it's part of libraries' mission to offer diverse content. "These efforts to mute or censor diverse voices in books is part of the just overall extreme divisiveness in our country that was really just exacerbated by the pandemic, [and] the actions taken by Rep. Krause and others have added fuel to that," she told the Tribune.