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Book ban upsets Texas town considers library closure

LLANO, TEXAS — Attempts to ban books in libraries and schools in the United States nearly doubled last year to 1,269 from the prior year, the highest number of attempts in 20 years, according to a recent report from the American Library Association.

Books that have LGBTQ themes are the most likely targets, according to the report.

The issue of which books are in a library and school has become a flashpoint in communities across the U.S. with conservative lawmakers and groups saying they are turning to banning books to protect children from pornography. Civil liberty organizations, writers and librarians say book banning attempts are censorship.

In the midwestern state of Missouri, a new law that bans sexually explicit materials from schools has resulted in pulling books off the shelves. In the state of Florida, lawmakers recently passed three new laws related to controlling reading material.

In the northwestern state of Idaho, Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation that would remove the exemption public libraries currently have to existing laws that ban disseminating material harmful to minors.

One town in the state of Texas is considering going a step further — closing the public library.

‘A book’s never hurt anybody’

Llano is a rural town 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Austin, the state capital. There, officials are considering closing the library system after a federal judge overturned the local lawmakers’ decision to remove books.

“A book’s never hurt anybody,” according to J.R. Decker, who said his family has lived in Llano County for generations. “My government’s telling me the only thing they can protect my child from is books. They should be worried about gun violence and school safety.”

Decker was among the people who protested at a recent meeting regarding the library closure issue. Among those who spoke was Suzette Baker, a former Llano County librarian who says she was fired for insubordination after she refused to remove books.

“I would like to know how the ‘History of the KKK’ is pornographic? ‘How to be an Anti-Racist,’ how is that pornographic? It’s not,” she said at the hearing. “This is about taking away rights. This is not a communist nation. This is not a Nazi nation. You do not get to pick our reading material, it is ours.”

Book-ban supporter Rhonda Schneider spoke in support of banning certain books.

“The library is a vital part of our community, but they said, ‘It’s a safe space for kids,'” said Schneider. “It is not a safe space for kids. These are all books that are currently on the shelf in the Llano Library.” Schneider read off a paper printout a list of books, in which two people spoke graphically about sexuality.

Llano resident Emmett McPherson did not get called upon to speak but said he also thinks the library is unsafe for children.

“The only reason I am for closing the library is because we haven’t gotten these books that are definitely pornographic moved to an adult section,” said McPherson. “I am willing to close the whole library to keep them out of my children’s hands.”

While some of the books cited at the meeting may be objectionable to some, they are not pornographic, said Texas Library Association Executive Director Shirley Robinson.

“So first of all, there is a legal definition of pornography,” said Robinson. “And there are never any materials in any library — school, public or academic — that would meet that legal definition of pornography.”

Texas book ban efforts

There are nearly 40 bills in this Texas legislative session relating to libraries, some of which include criminal charges against librarians, Robinson said.

Many book ban challenges in Texas began in 2021 after a lawmaker contacted libraries asking if they had any books among a list of nearly 850 titles, Robinson said. Many of the titles were LGBTQ-related or were written by or about people of color, she added.

“Librarians are leaving the profession because there is this threat of potential criminal prosecution or just harassment within their communities,” Robinson said.

One librarian who quit is Lee Glover, who was an elementary school librarian in the Houston, Texas, area. Her school started shifting book approval decisions to parents, instead of librarians, after an increase in book challenges.

“I already have a whole list of protocols I have to follow before I can put a book into the library,” she said. “But now they want me to have parents come and review them before I order them?”

It’s the students who are the losers in the book banning battle, she said.

“We are the lifeline for so many kids,” said Glover. ‘We are the ones who put books in kids’ hands that can’t see themselves reflected anywhere else.”

For now, the Llano County library system remains open. At its recent meeting, county commissioners voted to take the library closure “off the agenda,” while they appeal the federal order to return the books back to circulation. That decision is expected in the fall.

Source: voanews