Llano County residents file complaint after books are removed from library system

LLANO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A federal lawsuit is underway to prevent books from being removed from the Llano County library system in the future after county commissioners approved in December to suspend the library’s OverDrive system. The charge has been filed by members of the public.

On Wednesday, plaintiffs behind the lawsuit filed an injunction in the Western District of Texas to both “stop the ongoing removal of books and restore books already removed by government officials,” according to a press release. According to the release, more than 17,000 digital books have been removed from the Llano County library system.

“Plaintiffs respectfully request a preliminary injunction to halt Defendants’ systematic efforts to ban books from public libraries in Llano County,” the partial injunction reads. “Banning books violates the basic tenets of the First Amendment and goes to the heart of our democracy. Any time claimants are denied their right to access the banned books, they suffer immediate and irreparable harm.”

The root of the lawsuit dates back to Dec. 13, when Llano County commissioners voted to suspend the OverDrive system, a virtual library service that hosted electronic books.

“This action has been taken to provide an opportunity for the county to thoroughly review and better understand the resources provided by OverDrive, the accessibility of those resources, and to explore what other online services are available,” said Llano County- Judge Ron Cunningham v KXAN in a December statement. “Once these options have been evaluated, the Llano County Commissioners Court will decide as soon as possible which online service may be offered in the future.”

At that same meeting, Llano County Commissioners also established a 13-member library advisory board and approved a three-day library shutdown for “inventory and proper cataloging of the books.”

The warrant claims there has been a “systematic campaign to eradicate books containing ideas or messages they” [county commissioners] disagree with” since last August. Highlighted books include “Spinning” by Tillie Walden, “They Called Themselves The KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson, according to the release.

“As a result, defendants have transformed the county’s public libraries from contemplative spaces where residents can explore the marketplace of ideas to battlegrounds in the defendants’ political and ideological war,” the injunction reads.

In Texas, concerns about book content have come to the fore in discussions at both the state and local levels.

In November, Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Association of School Boards addressing Texas parents’ concerns about books, graphic novels and other material in ISD libraries and school systems.

“The most egregious examples are clearly pornographic images and substance that have no place in the Texas public education system. These parents are rightly angry,” Abbott said in part in the letter. “Parents have a right to protect their children from obscene content used in schools their children attend. They are right that public schools in Texas are not allowed to provide or promote pornographic or obscene material to students.”

Abbott’s letter followed an investigation launched by Republicans in Texas into the school district curriculum and books used on campus, especially those about race and sexuality. In an Oct. 25 letter to the Texas Education Agency obtained by the Texas Tribune, Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, noted book takedowns in ISDs across the state and compiled a 16-page list of nearly 850 books he was concerned about as to their contents.

Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham, named in the lawsuit, declined to comment due to the active nature of the lawsuit.

“Llano County appreciates your inquiry; however, we will not comment on pending lawsuits,” Court Coordinator Jennifer Buchanan said in an emailed statement to KXAN.

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