Officials in Llano County are prepared to shut down its public library system following a federal order to return previously banned books to shelves.
County commissioners will meet later today to discuss whether to continue or cease operations of the current physical library system, according to the meeting agenda.
The debate comes after a federal judge ordered Llano County officials to return at least a dozen previously removed books to library shelves. Many of the books were found inappropriate by county residents and Republican lawmakers due to their LGBTQ and race-related content.
Asher Price, who has been covering this story for Axios in Austin, said the effort to remove books from the shelves started in 2021.
“Conservative activists put pressure on county officials to take off the shelves what they call ‘pornographic filth,’” he said. “These are books about gender identity, race and children’s books that may have had some kind of depiction of nudity in them.”
After the books were removed, several Llano County residents sued, saying the removal violated their first amendment rights.
“A federal judge in Austin in late March said county officials had to put the books back on the shelves,” Price said. “And now the county is considering, instead of essentially reshelving, shutting down the libraries altogether.”
Llano County has three libraries that serve a population of about 22,000 people with nine full or part time employees, Price said.
Price said a number of people in the community are agitated about the possibility of the library closing.
“These libraries are community gathering places. They’re after school spots for school kids to gather there – you know, community gathering places for older citizens,” he said. “They’ve got lots of resources for people to help find employment.”
Groups like the Texas Library Association have also spoken out against this possible action.
“You have advocates like the Texas Library Association saying this is just going to further divide the community,” Price said. “There’s definitely a, kind of, let’s call it a kind of moderating influence or progressive influence in the county that says this would be a horrible thing. You know, I spoke with one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit who said it’s not just three buildings filled with books. These are community gathering places, and it would be devastating for the community.”
However, Llano County is also very conservative — it voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2020 — and Price said right wing activists support the library’s closure.
“One of those activists who pushed for books to be taken off the shelves in the first place was then last year appointed to the county’s library advisory board. She’s the vice chair there now,” Price said. “She, according to a text I obtained, had written to another conservative activist that taking this kind of action would be very courageous and that community members ought to keep praying for this kind of step.”
Price said he hasn’t seen any alternatives to closing the library proposed or discussed.
“This is going to get hashed out later this afternoon in Llano County. And they could vote not to close the libraries at all,” he said. “In a filing this week, the county lawyer objecting to the federal court’s order that the books be reshelved, said we’re considering closing the libraries because we can’t continue to expose librarians and county officials to lawsuit whenever a disgruntled library patron disagrees with the removal of books from shelves. So they’re trying to stake out that ground.”