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Texas County to Discuss Closing Library Rather Than Restore Removed Books

Photo of padlock and chain in front of books

Update: April 19, 2023: We are pleased to let you know that the Llano County Commissioners Court has decided not to close the county’s libraries. As the New York Times reported, “after impassioned statements from residents on both sides of the issue, including those who support removing books, Llano County commissioners voted unanimously to keep the library system open as the confrontation plays out in the courts.” We thank our members and others who spoke out, and we will continue to monitor the lawsuit as it progresses.

Update, April 11, 2023: The Authors Guild has learned that the Commissioners Court of Llano County is scheduled to meet on Thursday, April 13, to discuss whether to close the county’s library system instead of restoring the removed books as instructed by the District Court of the Western District of Texas. The Authors Guild is appalled that county officials would rather deny their community access to any books than provide ones that offer viewpoints different from their own.

If you live in Llano County, here are steps you can take to speak out against this action:

  1. Contact your Llano County officials and tell them you object to closing the library.
  2. Attend the meeting, and tell your friends and neighbors to do likewise.
  3. Spread the word about how Llano County would rather deny a community access to books than expose people to different characters and stories.

Below is a statement from Unite Against Book Bans that you can share:

April 7, 2023: We are pleased to report that the District Court of the Western District of Texas has ordered Llano County officials overseeing the Llano County Public Library System to return books removed last year to their original locations. The court gave the library a deadline of 24 hours after its ruling to return the books to its shelves and update its system to reflect that the books were available for checkout. It also barred the defendants from removing any more books while the case is still pending.

Last April, seven Llano County residents and users of the county’s library system brought a lawsuit against members of the Llano County Commissioners Court, members of the Llano County Library Board, and the Library System Director arguing that the removal of certain books from the library violated their constitutional rights. In a well-reasoned opinion, the Court partially granted the plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction, finding that:

The plaintiffs had shown that they were likely to succeed on their allegations of viewpoint and content discrimination, because “the First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination.” The Court found that the evidence showed that Defendants had targeted and removed books “including well-regarded, prize-winning books,” based on complaints that the books were inappropriate.

The plaintiffs had shown that the library’s restrictions were based on the content of the books, and “unlikely to pass constitutional muster.” The Court stated that “when the governments’ ‘substantial motivation’ appears to be a desire to prevent access to particular views, like in this case, Defendants’ actions deserve greater First Amendment scrutiny,” and found that “Plaintiffs have clearly shown the removals are likely to be constitutionally infirm because they are not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.”

Although the defendants claimed that they had an “in-house checkout system” that allowed the books in question to be used by patrons even though they had been removed from the shelves, the Court stated that since those books had been removed from the catalog and were only available upon a patron’s special request, “[t]his is, of course, an obvious and intentional effort by Defendants to make it difficult if not impossible to access the materials Plaintiffs seek. This ongoing infringement warrants an interim remedy precisely because the harm is ongoing and irreparable.”

While this decision is promising, the case is still in its preliminary stages. We will continue to monitor it and keep you advised.