How changes at Llano County libraries have divided the community

A head librarian was fired in March for insubordination after speaking against changes to programming and procedures.

By Laura RiceApril 13, 2022 12:04 pm, , ,

The changes at the Llano County Library System began last October, right around the same time Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) released a list of 850 books that he thought public schools should reconsider having in their libraries.

Krause’s inquiry began the latest round of conversations over book banning in Texas. While officials in Llano County say their decision to reassess library materials and programs is routine, Daily Trib reporter Brigid Cooley says that’s not been the perception in the community.

“It’s really caused a conflict among people in the community. There’s a lot of loud opinions being voiced, and it seems to be a two-sided issue, almost,” Cooley told Texas Standard.

Cooley reports that not only have at least four books been removed from shelves, but make-up and meeting practices of the library advisory board have changed as well as the library system’s digital offerings. Head librarian of the Kingsland branch, Suzette Baker, was fired partly due to her questioning these changes.

For more on this story listen to the audio interview in the player above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: When did you start to track changes at the Llano County library system?

Brigid Cooley: Daily Trib has been reporting on the issue since around October, late summer, of last year. I kind of jumped on the story in January following the Library Advisory Board and their decisions in regard to programs available in the library.

What decisions have you been tracking?

In December of last year, the county commissioners and Judge [Ron] Cunningham shut down the library system for about three days to do an audit of books inside the system and see whether or not they were up to standard and appropriate for children and just the age groups in there. Afterward, they dissolved the existing library advisory board and reinstated a new one with 13 members who were supposed to be in charge of and looking into what kind of products are available, what kind of programing is available, and making sure it stands up to community standard. And this kind of resulted in some controversy regarding whether or not the books were being banned or if they were being rightly scrutinized for what type of material is available.

How would you explain the firing of this librarian? Was it connected with these changes that you just described?

It definitely seems to be. Suzette Baker was a librarian at the Kingsland Library. … She had been very vocal about not appreciating and not supporting some of the measures being taken by the advisory board, as well as county officials, including replacing Overdrive, which is the online reading resource that they used, with another one called Bibliotheca. And she was pretty outspoken about not supporting these decisions. And then shortly after she was fired for insubordination.

Were there books removed from Llano County libraries?

As of my last reporting, we know of at least four titles that were officially removed. That was confirmed in an email from the library system director. There is talk, however, among people who use the library and some off-record conversations that more books have been removed – up to 12, as far as I know, and some people believe that there’s more coming.

What sort of books?

One book that was removed was “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak. That was a book that was removed toward the end of last year because some of the illustrations depict some nudity; it’s a children’s book. And so that book was removed.

What’s the community reaction been to all of this?

Some people are very supportive of going through the libraries and seeing what types of books are available, what’s being given to children or just adults even to make sure that it’s not inappropriate, while others have really expressed outrage. There is actually an anti-censorship group that has formed somewhat casually. They don’t have an official title or anything like that, but they have formed to express their issues with this, and they are looking into some legal action against the county in regard to potential book bans and an overstep of county authority.

What do you expect might happen next? And what about this librarian?

Suzette Baker is no longer working with the county library system, but she is looking at maybe pursuing some legal action and getting some legal representation because she believes her termination was not warranted. And as far as where I see this going, gosh, I guess it could go a lot of ways. It’s really caused a conflict among people in the community. There’s a lot of loud opinions being voiced, and it seems to be a two-sided issue, almost.

And so I think, you know, the library advisory board and the county is going to continue making decisions that they see fit the county as best as possible. And I believe the community is going to continue either supporting or being upset by those things, and we will just kind of have to watch how everything unfolds.

Do you sense that this is more of a local issue or does this have ripple effects beyond Llano County?

You know, with my hyper-local reporting, I’m really looking at it from a local perspective. However, as you mentioned before, this does seem to be a conversation happening across Texas, and I don’t know that that conversation is going away. So I think this may be tied to larger discussions. However, some county officials like Ron Cunningham, who is the judge, he did say that he doesn’t believe that this has anything to do with a political stance or anything like that, that this is just kind of some routine program and county work on the back end to make sure everything’s running the right way. But it’s hard to not see that it has a political — at least it has a political  underlying message here as people kind of take sides and continue this discussion.

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