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County Commissioners in Llano County, Texas, are considering whether to shut down public libraries after their efforts to ban over a dozen books failed.
On Thursday, officials scheduled a special meeting during which they considered shutting down three libraries in the county, Texas Public Radio reported.
The move comes after a federal judge ordered the commissioners to return 17 books to the shelves that they had banned last year without public input. Using similar talking points from other Republicans around the country, the officials had claimed the books, many featuring themes of race and LGBTQ+ issues, were pornographic and sexually explicit.
A notice for the Thursday meeting stated “This action item will include discussion and action regarding the continued employment and/or status of the Llano County Library System employees and the feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”
To ban or not to ban?
The 17 books are:
- Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
- They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
- Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings
- Spinning by Tillie Walden
- In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
- It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robbie H. Harris
- My Butt is So Noisy! I Broke My Butt! and I Need a New Butt! by Dawn McMillan
- Larry the Farting Leprechaun, Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose, Freddie the Farting Snowman and Harvey the Heart Has Too Many Farts by Jane Bexley
- Shine by Lauren Myracle
- Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle
- Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
- Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Seven outraged parents sued the county last year over the bans, which led to Federal Judge Robert Pitman ordering the books be returned on March 30, citing the fact that officials had banned them due to the ideas they contained.
According to the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision Island Trees School District Board of Education v. Pico, “Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”
Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Library Association, blasted the commissioners’ efforts to seemingly sidestep the judge’s order.
“The impact of costing employees their jobs there at the Llano County Library is going to really deprive residents of all sorts of services — not just access to books, but things like how to write a will, how to get a divorce, how to take care of a baby, or get a license, or learn English,” Robinson said.
Book ban in a democratic society?
According to the American Library Association, 1,269 library books were targeted for censorship across the nation in 2022, the most since the organization began tracking bans 20 years ago. Most of the censors focus on books by or about Black and LGBTQ+ authors or subjects.
It’s unclear what exactly led to the latest efforts by Republicans to control what children can learn. Widespread attempts to ban books didn’t begin until after the largest and most diverse mass uprising seeking justice for George Floyd in summer 2020.
When one looks at the history of prohibiting enslaved Africans from learning to read in the U.S., some might draw the conclusion that Republicans don’t want the new generation of readers to question systemic racism and oppression.
Anti-literacy laws in the South during the 18th and 19th centuries didn’t just implement a book ban. They banned enslaved people from being able to learn to read or from anyone being allowed to teach them. Some of the bans were implemented after large slave revolts, such as the Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina.
The Negro Act of 1740 prohibited enslaved African people from growing their own food, learning to read, moving freely, assembling in groups, or earning money. It also allowed white enslavers to whip and kill enslaved Africans for being “rebellious,” according to the Equal Justice Initiative.
White supremacists, threatened by the idea that Black people could think and live freely for themselves, once implemented widespread bans on reading for enslaved Africans. Today, Republican attempts to censor ideas that threaten their political power remind many of a not-too-distant past.