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Texas County Votes to Keep Library Running After Threatening It Over Banned Books

Texas County Votes to Keep Library Running After Threatening It Over Banned Books

Llano County Library

It comes after a judge ordered the books returned to the library shelves.


(CNN) -- A rural Texas county voted Thursday afternoon to drop discussion for now of possibly defunding the county's library system after a federal judge ordered it to return more than a dozen banned books to library shelves.

By a unanimous vote, the Commissioner's Court in Llano County, Texas, removed an item from their agenda to consider whether to "continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County Library System pending further guidance from the Federal Courts."

Judge Robert Pitman had ordered the county to make the disputed children's books available on library shelves again, including books regarding sexual identity and racism.

"The library will remain open. We will try this in the courts, not through social media or the news media," Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham said Thursday.

Neither Cunningham nor the commissioners commented in the meeting as to why they decided to drop the defunding discussion, but said they would continue to fight the lawsuit demanding the permanent return of the books. The commissioners and members of the library board have appealed the federal judge's ruling.

In the public comment section of the meeting prior to the vote, 15 residents were allowed to give their opinions about closing the library. Eleven of them were in favor of keeping the library open. Another four said they wanted to temporarily close the library until a wide variety of books were removed from the system -- substantially more than the 17 books at question in the lawsuit.

Reading a prepared statement, Cunningham said the books were taken from the shelves "for reasons unrelated to their content or viewpoints," stating they were selected as part of a normal "weeding" process. The federal judge who issued the order had disputed this claim, noting that current members of the library board had previously called them "pornographic filth" and "CRT and LGBTQ books."

Books ordered to return to shelves included "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 and "Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen" by Jazz Jennings.

In April 2022, seven residents sued 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.

The defendants argued the books were removed as part of a regular process following the library's existing policies.

Cunningham said the planned discussion of possibly closing the library was motivated by concerns about the cost of litigation.

"A public library simply cannot function if its librarians, county judge, commissioners and even the volunteers who serve out of the goodness of their heart, can be sued every time a library patron disagrees with a librarian's weeding decisions," he said.

Cunningham said the lawsuit has cost the county more than $100,000 and the total library budget is $450,000.

He went on to accuse the media of unfairly covering the case, saying the plaintiffs could still check out the disputed books if they ask for them specifically, although the federal judge noted they were not on library shelves and did not appear in the library's public catalog.

The next hearing is set for April 27 to consider possible sanctions against the defendants for failing to appear for depositions in the case.

The case comes amid ongoing fights across the country to protect access to books in response to a banning boom that has taken shape in the US -- including in K-12 schools, universities and public libraries.

In 2022, the number of attempts to censor library books reached an unparalleled record high since the American Library Association began documenting data about book censorship over 20 years ago, the organization said in March.

It cataloged 1,269 demands to censor library books in 2022 -- nearly double the number of challenges in 2021.

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