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Llano County libraries focus of film crew as e-book access restored

Llano County Commissioners Court meeting for May 9, 2022

The justice of the peace courtroom where the Llano County Commissioners Court holds its regular meeting was packed once again May 9 due to two agenda items dealing with the Llano County Library System. A videographer from a documentary film crew (right) recorded the meeting in response to what some are calling censorship. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Llano County Library System patrons once again have access to an e-book service, although it is not the same as the one turned off in December at the recommendation of the newly formed Llano County Library Advisory Board. A new service was approved by the Llano County Commissioners Court at its regular meeting Monday, May 9. The service became available the same day. 

The two library-centered agenda items drew a standing room-only crowd to the meeting. One vote was to change the system’s e-book provider to Biblioteca from OverDrive. The second was to make Biblioteca immediately available to patrons of the system’s three libraries: the Llano County Library in Llano, Kingsland Branch Library in Kingsland, and Lakeshore Branch Library in Buchanan Dam.

Proponents of remaining with OverDrive, which has been the county’s e-book provider for more than 10 years, told commissioners at an earlier meeting that Biblioteca is not available on e-ink readers like Kindle Paperwhite, which is what the library had to check out. The library had to buy Kindle Fires for the new service. Those wanting the change to Biblioteca told commissioners that OverDrive does not offer a way to filter material for young readers.  

A federal lawsuit was recently filed against Llano County officials and some Library Advisory Board members citing concerns that a recent decision to remove access to several books in the Llano County Library System is a violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments. The issue of censorship in the library system, the firing of the head librarian in Kingsland, and the lawsuit have garnered national attention from several media outlets, including the Washington Post, the Texas Tribune, CNN, and NPR. 

A documentary film crew following fired librarian Suzette Baker recorded the meeting. According to Baker, the books being censored go beyond charges of “pornography” and encompass anything that the Library Advisory Board finds inappropriate. 

“There is no freedom of religion in there, there is no right to read, there is no right to speech, there is no right at all within that room,” she told, referring to the courtroom where Monday’s meeting was held. “It is a one-way street, and that is not the way that America is. There are people in this county who are gay, there are people in this county who are not Christians, there are people in this county who are transgender, there are people in this county who are everything, and it is not the homogenized existence that they are trying to portray in there.”

During the meeting, several Llano County residents shared their concerns over what they called potentially disturbing material available to children in the county’s library system. 

“There’s been a lot of developmentally inappropriate books in regards to sex, particularly with graphic pictures and illustrations and content in a section that’s under 10 years old,” said Lynsi Heron, a Llano County mother who said she has a master’s degree in early childhood education. 

Heron and her husband, Jason, were two of 11 residents who spoke at the meeting. All of the speakers shared the concern that children have access to pornographic material through the county’s public libraries. 

Two of the books in question are “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie H. Harris. Images from “Gender Queer” were distributed to commissioners by Llano County resident Wayne Shipley, who said he was able to access the material through OverDrive. 

“I was not challenged at all as to who I was or how old I was,” said Shipley in reference to the ease of access on the e-book service.  

Representatives of the group that sued the county over its new library policies were in attendance but did not speak. Baker explained that the opposition often doesn’t speak because the meetings can become tumultuous.

“It’s too much drama, it’s a lot of drama, it really is,” she said. “And there is a court (of law) that will look at this in depth and decide what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.” 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Biblioteca e-reader service was not compatible with Kindle Fire. It is compatible with Kindle Fire tablets, but not with Kindle Paperwhite e-readers, whic his what the library system has on hand for patrons to check out.