LLANO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A federal lawsuit is working to prevent the future removal of books from the Llano County library system after county commissioners approved in December suspending the library’s OverDrive system. The suit was 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 to reinstate books that government officials have already removed,” according to a news release. More than 17,000 digital books were removed from the Llano County library system, per the release.
“Plaintiffs respectfully seek a preliminary injunction to stop Defendants’ systematic efforts to ban books from Llano County public libraries,” the injunction reads in part. “Book banning offends basic First Amendment principles and strikes at the core of our democracy. Each moment that Plaintiffs 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 its OverDrive system, a virtual library service that hosted electronic books.
“This action was taken to provide the County with an opportunity 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,” Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham said to KXAN in a December statement. “Once these options are evaluated, the Llano County Commissioners Court will make the determination as quickly as possible as to what online service may be provided in the future.”
At that same meeting, Llano County commissioners also established a 13-person library advisory board, as well as approved a three-day library closure for “inventory and proper cataloging of the books.”
The injunction alleges there has been a “systematic campaign to eradicate books containing ideas or messages they [county commissioners] disagree with” since last August. Books flagged include Tillie Walden’s “Spinning,” Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent,” per the release.
“In so doing, Defendants have transformed the County’s public libraries from contemplative spaces where residents can explore the marketplace of ideas to battlegrounds in Defendants’ political and ideological war,” the injunction states.
In Texas, concerns surrounding books’ content has risen to the forefront of conversations at both the state and local level.
In November, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a letter to the Texas Association of School Boards regarding concerns voiced by Texas parents on books, graphic novels and other materials in ISD libraries and school systems.
“The most flagrant examples include clearly pornographic images and substance that have no place in the Texas public education system. These parents are rightfully angry,” Abbott said, in part, in the letter. “Parents have the right to shield their children from obscene content used in schools their children attend. They are right that Texas public schools should not provide or promote pornographic or obscene material to students.”
Abbott’s letter followed an investigation launched by Texas Republicans into school districts’ curriculum and books used on campus — specifically those addressing 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 removals in ISDs around the state and compiled a 16-page list of nearly 850 books that he had concerns with regarding their content.
Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham, named in the lawsuit, declined to comment due to the active nature of the suit.
“Llano County appreciates your inquiry; however, we will not comment on pending litigation,” Court Coordinator Jennifer Buchanan said in an emailed statement to KXAN.