A group of Llano County residents is seeking legal support to fight censorship and other actions by the Llano County Library Advisory Board they say negatively affect the county’s library system and its patrons.
The group, which is made up of about 15 members who meet regularly to share information and discuss their concerns, was founded after county officials dissolved and reestablished the Library Advisory Board earlier this year. The newly formed board recently closed its meetings to the public.
“We don’t have a name or organization. We’re just a group of concerned people who meet to discuss,” explained Leila Green Little, a Llano resident and the counter-group’s unofficial leader. “We are very diverse and varied, but the thing that unites us is that we are all readers and book lovers.”
Little started attending Llano County Commissioners Court meetings in November 2021 after learning a group of county residents had voiced outrage during an Oct. 25 meeting over materials within the library system they deemed inappropriate. Their protests began last summer afterstate Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) published a list of about 850 books he found to be inappropriate for children, many of which were about people of color and the LGBTQ community.
The previous Library Advisory Board was made up of eight members: four appointed by the Commissioners Court, three representing each of the county system’s Friends of the Library groups, and an additional member appointed by the Llano Woman’s Culture Club.
During a Jan. 10 meeting, county commissioners voted to dissolve the existing board and replace it with a newly formed 13-member board. In addition, the requirement to include members from the Friends groups and the Woman’s Culture Club was waived.
“By restructuring the board, we still included the option for members of Friends and Culture Club to be on the board, but also opened the committee to a broader reach of persons interested in serving on the board,” Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham wrote in a Feb. 24 statement to DailyTrib.com.
The majority of the newly appointed members were not on the previous board, but members Susan Sittion, Louann Raley, and Chair Gay Baskin were reappointed. One participant whose membership to the board was not reinstated, however, was Jeanne Puryear, a Llano resident and member of the Llano Friends of the Library group.
Puryear was previously appointed to the board by Commissioner Jerry Don Moss and only attended two board meetings before COVID-19 shut them down. Although her term was cut short, she was informed that she would not be considered for a position once the board was reinstated.
“I talked to Jerry Don by phone a couple of times when all this stuff started, and he made it pretty clear to me that I wouldn’t be reappointed because he wanted a whole new group in there,” Puryear said. “So I knew I was on the outs. I just didn’t realize there would be so many people that didn’t know jack about the library. They’re political appointees, as far as I can gather.”
Puryear informed Little about the Commissioners Court’s actions concerning the library system after she attended its Oct. 25 meeting. Since then, she has participated in discussions with Little and other counter-group members.
Three attendees of the Oct. 25 commissioners meeting were Bonnie Wallace, Rochelle Wells, and Rhonda Schneider, all of whom were later appointed to the newly formed Library Advisory Board in January.
After the October meeting, Wallace, who would later be appointed vice-chair of the Library Advisory Board by Cunningham, emailed the judge a list of 60 books on Nov. 10, claiming they were in the children’s section of the library and asking for them to be relocated.
DailyTrib.com was provided a copy of the list and email, as well as others shared between county officials and library staff, via a public information request filed with the county by members of Little’s group.
“I am not advocating for any books to be censored, but to be relocated to the adult section where a child would need to get their parent’s approval to check out,” Wallace wrote in the email to the judge before she was appointed to the board. “It is the only way that I can think of to prohibit future censorship of books I do agree with, mainly the Bible, if more radicals come to town and want to use the fact that we censored these books against us.”
Books on the list include titles such as “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl,” “How to Be an Antiracist,” “Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships,” and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen.” Except for two titles, each of the books on the list also appeared on Rep. Krause’s list.
The majority of books on Wallace’s list, however, were not categorized as children’s books within the library system’s catalog, but instead were listed as young adult or juvenile fiction, while three titles were categorized as regular nonfiction.
DailyTrib.com reached out to Wallace on Feb. 24 via the Library Advisory Board’s group email address for comments, but no response was received before publication of this story.
Since obtaining a copy of the book list, Little’s group has kept an eye on, and even checked out, some of the titles to ensure they are not removed or prematurely weeded from the libraries. Little said at least eight of the books listed no longer appear in the library’s online catalog.
“Weeding” is a system used by Texas librarians to replace older, less circulated books with new ones. Guidelines for this process are outlined in the CREW weeding manual, which was written by Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
In a Jan. 28 email sent to a library patron, Llano County Library System Director Amber Milum confirmed that four books were removed from the library system: “I Need a New Butt” by Dawn McMillan, “Freddie the Farting Snowman” by Jane Bexley, “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley, and “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak. She explained that “It’s Perfectly Normal” was removed because it was weeded from the collection. These books were not included on Wallace’s list.
In late February, DailyTrib.com requested a list of titles removed from the library system from both Cunningham and Milum since book acquisition was frozen. However, a list was not provided by the time of this story’s publication.
Little and her counter-group call what is happening at the library censorship.
“I have been looking at this as a series of battles that I know would be lost,” Little said. “I knew OverDrive would be taken away. I knew books would be removed from the library. I knew the board would be stacked with political appointees. All of these things have happened. What I would like to see is for there to be some legal accountability for the actions of our Commissioners Court. I think that if our Commissioners Court had taken a step back to look at the actions, which they have now undertaken, we would not be in this current situation. I would like the censorship to stop.”
Since November, Little has met with attorneys from the ACLU as well as a group called Democracy Forward in hopes of getting legal assistance to hold county officials accountable. Her group will also continue filing public information requests to build its case.