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Texas county keeps libraries open amid fight over banned books

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A rural Texas county’s public libraries will remain open while a court battle continues over whether local officials can remove books deemed inappropriate, commissioners decided on Thursday.

The Llano County commissioners in central Texas held a special meeting to consider closing the three public library branches after a federal judge’s ruling to return banned books to shelves and not censor any more.

Llano County – with a population of about 22,000 located about 60 miles northwest of Austin – is the latest flashpoint in a battle over books in libraries across the U.S.

The four commissioners and judge of the Llano County commissioners court, as the governing body is known, heard from 15 members of the public during a tense meeting before going into executive session. Most who spoke wanted the libraries to remain open.

“Does Llano, Texas, want to be known as the town that closed the public library?” resident Lee Nelms asked. “That would be the death knell for a vibrant community.”

But others said they wanted the libraries shut until books they labeled “pornographic” were out. They read aloud explicit sex scenes from books.

County Judge Ron Cunningham, the top elected official in the county, announced after the executive session that the libraries would remain open and said “we will try this in the courts, not through social media or through news media”.

He said the books had been returned to the shelves, but did not say when.

Among the books removed, according to the lawsuit, were “Caste: The Origins of our Discontent” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson and “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Over 1,600 titles, mostly addressing racism and LGBTQ issues, have been removed from libraries in 32 states in the past year, according to the writers’ organization PEN America.

No state bans more books than Texas, according to PEN America.

“Public libraries are not meant to serve particular ideological factions,” said Kasey Meehan, who directs the “Freedom to Read” project of PEN America. “They are meant to serve the community.”

Some Llano County citizens in 2021 began requesting the removal of books that were included on a Texas Republican lawmaker’s list of titles that should be banned.

The library board resisted and in 2022 it was dissolved by county commissioners. Commissioners then “packed the new library board with political appointees,” according to the lawsuit.

Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on March 30 issued a preliminary injunction ordering Llano County to return to library shelves “all print books that were removed because of their viewpoint or content.” He also ordered no more books be removed.

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