LLANO, Texas — The fate of a small-town Texas library system hung in the balance Thursday as Llano County commissioners prepared to decide whether to comply with a judge’s order to restore the books they banned, or to close. the library completely.
There have already been signs that commissioners, upset by a federal judge’s ruling that they violated the Constitution by pulling a dozen mostly children’s books off the shelves, might suspend all three branches of a library system that it has served several generations of Llano residents. for almost a century.
«We’re really concerned that they might close the libraries,» Leila Green Little, one of seven people who successfully sued the county for banning the books, told NBC News ahead of the meeting.
«Our library system was started over 100 years ago by a group of Llano County women who used to gather by our river to read books,» Little added. «That was the humble beginning of our library system. And if they were to close it, it would absolutely be the end of a key piece of our county’s history.»
Ominously, when the commissioners scheduled the special meeting, the first item on the agenda was whether to “continue or cease operations” at the library.
Additionally, as part of the discovery of the lawsuit they filed against the county on April 25, 2022, Little and the other opponents of the book ban discovered a text message that Bonnie Wallace, who is vice chair of the Llano County Library Advisory Board and an ally of the commissioners, sent to one of their supporters.
It read, in part, “the judge has said that if we lose the injunction, he will CLOSE the library because he will NOT put the pornography back in the children’s section!”
The judge Wallace was referring to is Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham. And neither Wallace nor the judge returned phone calls from NBC News seeking more details.
Wallace, in her text message, did not clarify which books she or the judge consider «porn.»
But the debate that has driven a wedge into this largely rural county about 75 miles west of Austin. And it could heat up when the commissioners meet.
Little and the other opponents of the book ban have been urging other Llano County residents to attend the special meeting and express their support for the embattled library system, which serves the county’s 20,000 people.
But before the meeting began, residents who want to keep the library open complained that they were being denied the chance to address the commissioners in their chamber, which is known as the commissioners’ hearing room and seats only 35 people.
The Rev. Kevin Henderson of the Sunrise Beach Federated Church, who wants the libraries to stay open, said he went to the county clerk Wednesday to reserve a spot in the courtroom so he could address the commissioners and was turned away.
But when he arrived at the commissioners courtroom on Thursday morning, he was met by a group of book-ban supporters gathered in the shade of a tent that had been set up outside for them, and learned that they had been assigned spaces to speak.
«I don’t have a number to be sitting in the courtroom,» Henderson said.
Inside the tent, Jason Herron, 39, denied they had been given preferential treatment, saying they arrived shortly after dawn to pray.
“We are promoters of education, not propaganda,” said the father of three.
The Llano County emergency meeting was called after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman ruled last week in favor of Little and six other residents who sued Cunningham, Wallace, Llano County commissioners and other library board members for checking out the books.
The residents contended that their First Amendment rights to free speech, as well as their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, were violated because the books were removed without notice or ability to appeal.
“The defendants claim to be on a manhunt to eradicate ‘pornographic’ materials,” the residents said in their complaint. “This is a pretext; none of the books addressed by the defendants are pornographic.”
The books that Llano County officials removed from library shelves include critically acclaimed works for teen and older readers, such as Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”; «They Called Themselves KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group,» by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; graphic novel «Spinning» by Tillie Walden; «In the kitchen at night» by Maurice Sendak; and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris.
But four children’s picture books with “silly themes and rhymes” were also banned.
Those were «Larry the Farting Leprechaun»; «Gary the Goose and the Gasoline Loose from Him»; “Freddie the farting snowman”; and “Harvey the Heart Has Too Many Farts,” according to the complaint.
And three books of «I need a new butt!» by Dawn McMillan. The series were also removed from libraries, the complaint states.
Last year, an assistant principal at a Mississippi elementary school was fired after reading «I need a new butt!» to a second grade class. The reason? Because the book used words like «butt» and «fart» and included cartoon images of a child’s butt.
Suzanne Gamboa reported from Llano and Corky Siemaszko from New York City.