A lawsuit filed by residents of Llano County, Texas, says the plaintiffs have an array of political viewpoints, but are “fiercely united … in their belief that the government cannot dictate which books they can and cannot read.” The lawsuit described a heated debate that began last fall with people referring to a state lawmaker’s list of titles to target county officials with removal requests. In January, county commissioners voted to dissolve the library board, which resisted banning books. They then “packed the new library board with political appointees”, according to the lawsuit. In March, the head librarian at one of the branches was fired after refusing to remove books from shelves.
The suit alleges that county officials have been “systematically removing award winning books from library shelves because they disagree with the ideas within them.” It states that among the books removed from Llano County library shelves are Caste: The Origins of our Discontent by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and the popular children’s book, In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak. The lawsuit also states that the county terminated access to over 17,000 digital books available through Overdrive because it was unable to individually censor certain 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,” reads the federal complaint, filed on April 25 in the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division. “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.”
“None of the books Defendants have targeted is pornographic,” the complaint states. “Many of these books have received prestigious literary awards and national acclaim, and many involve contemporary political issues…Privately, Defendants have admitted that they are banning books because they disagree with their political viewpoints and dislike their subject matter.”
The suit asks for declaratory relief stating that Defendants have violated Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and for injunctive relief. “Even books that are not nationally acclaimed should not be banned because of their content or viewpoint,” the complaint states. “Unfortunately, Defendants have done just that—prescribed which public library books Llano County residents can and cannot read based on the viewpoints and ideas contained within those books…The right to publish and receive ideas—even politically unpopular ideas or ones that some find offensive or distasteful—is enshrined in our Constitution.”
In addition to attorneys’ fees and a court order declaring that the defendants violated their constitutional rights, the lawsuit seeks an injunction tailored “to end Defendants’ efforts to monopolize the marketplace of ideas, and to ensure that once again there will ‘be the fullest practicable provision of material presenting all points of view concerning the problems and issues of our times,’ for all Llano County library patrons.”
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.”
Cathy Collins has worked as a Library Media & Instructional Technology Specialist for 23 years at the K-12 level. She holds a Doctorate in Education with a specialization in Curriculum, Leadership, Teaching and Learning; and additional Masters Degrees in Education and Library Science. Dr. Collins served on the MassCUE Board as PD Chair from 2015-2019. She has published her writing in various journals including “EdWeek,” “Library Media Connection,” “NEA Today,” and “Knowledge Quest.” She is a 2012 Reynolds High School Journalism Institute Fellow and served as a project consultant for the E-Book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Journalism in the Digital Age.” She is currently serving as a News Literacy Project Ambassador. She received a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. in 2014 and is the recipient of AASL’s 2014 Intellectual Freedom Award. She was named an MSLA “Super Librarian” in 2015. She served on the MA State Science Ambassador Team, ISTE STEM PLN Leadership Team, and was elected in December, 2020, to the ISTE Board of Directors. She is passionate about STEM/STEAM, global education and media literacy. In addition to having coordinated the Chinese Exchange Program at Sharon High School for many years, she has journeyed with students to India, Peru and Tanzania, Africa.