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Llano libraries remain open — for now

Llano County library support

Showing support for keeping Llano County’s three libraries open are Michael McDavid of Buchanan Dam (left); Emily Decker, 7-year-old Ethan Decker, and J.R. Decker, all of Llano; and Jerry Mayor of Kingsland. The group held their signs on Texas 16 outside of the Llano County Annex, where county commissioners held a special meeting April 13 to discuss closing the libraries. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Llano County’s three libraries will remain open for now and county commissioners will continue to fight a civil lawsuit they say has so far cost more than $100,000 and 250 cumulative hours of labor by county employees. The more the lawsuit costs the county, the more likely the libraries will have to be closed, according to a statement by Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham.

“The entire budget of the library system is $450,000,” Cunningham read from a two-page statement that was later sent out to the media. “As litigation costs and the continued threat of civil litigation continue to grow from law firms in Austin and San Francisco, it will be impossible for the county to operate this purely discretionary county function.” 

Cunningham and the county’s four commissioners, who are defendants in the Little et al. v. Llano County et al. civil lawsuit, held a special meeting on Thursday, April 13, to discuss the possibility of closing the libraries in Llano, Kingsland, and Buchanan Dam. 

The lawsuit was filed in April 2022 by seven Llano County residents citing violations of their first and fourteenth amendment rights. On March 30, a U.S. district judge handed down a preliminary injunction ordering the county to return 17 books removed from circulation. The books were returned to the shelves and the digital catalog the following day and the county filed an appeal in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Commissioners spent the first 40 minutes of the Thursday meeting listening to public comments. After a 40-minute executive session, they returned and voted unanimously to remove the only item on the agenda. 

“For those of you who don’t understand what just happened, we have ruled to remove the agenda item,” Cunningham explained after the vote. “The libraries will remain open. We will try this in the courts and not through social media or the through the news media.” 

Fifteen people were allowed two minutes each to speak during public comment, which is confined to about 30 minutes at all Commissioner Court meetings.

Rochelle Wells
Rochelle Wells used her two minutes at the podium during the public comment period of a Llano County commissioners special meeting on April 13 to read aloud an explicit sex scene from a book she said is still on library shelves in the young adult section. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Of those, only four people spoke in favor of closing the library. Three of the speakers were members of the Llano County Library Advisory Board and named as defendants in the lawsuit. Bonnie Wallace, Rochelle Wells, and Rhonda Schneider each spent their two minutes at the podium reading sexually explicit material from books they said were available to check out in the young adult section. 

“I am in favor of closing the libraries temporarily until we find a solution to get rid of the filth in our libraries,” said Wallace, vice chairman of the advisory board. Wallace and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Don Moss, were recently ordered to appear in person on April 27 in U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman’s courtroom in Austin. She and Moss face possible sanctions after they did not show up to scheduled depositions in March.  

None of the three books from which the defendants read are part of the lawsuit, which lists 17 books, including “Freddie the Farting Snowman” by Jane Bexley and “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group,” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Most public comments were impassioned pleas to keep the libraries open.

“None of us want the kids — our children — to be able to access pornography, and there are simple ways to do that besides the nuclear option of shutting down the whole entire library system,” said Denise Kennedy of Castell. “I cannot believe that reasonable people cannot sit down and have a reasonable discussion and find reasonable solutions aside from closing what has always been a fabulous library.” 

James Arno of Llano, the last person to speak, also came to support the library.

“I totally get why people don’t want their kids to read what was read here today,” he said. “But you can also find out how to build a garden, how to get a job. Plenty of people who don’t have a computer come to the library. I pay attention to what my kids bring home from the library. That’s our job. It’s not our job to burn this thing to the ground to keep kids from reading what these people are reading (out loud here).”

After public comments, commissioners went into executive session. During that time, a group of about 20 people inside the courtroom, including Wallace, Wells, and Schneider gathered in a prayer circle, holding hands and locking arms while one of the men prayed aloud. 

They also sang hymns while some in the group tried to get members of the media to take photos of the pages they read to print in their publications. Some in the group, including Wallace and Schneider, handed out photocopies of the pages, loudly describing some of the explicit scenes for reporters.

“You can’t print this because it’s pornography,” said one man who refused to give his name. “You should be afraid to let your children in a library.” 

Jeffrey Scoggins, who livestreamed the meeting on a Facebook page titled “Keep the Llano Country Library System,” told he was uncomfortable listening to the graphic readings.

“We were forced to listen to them read that,” he said. “In the library, we have a choice to read it or not.” 

Leila Green Little, one of the seven plaintiffs in the suit, gave her assessment of the explicit readings to

“It gets people’s attention,” she said. “It’s a shock tactic. What struck me about that is that the people reading those excerpts read them out of books that are not at issue in the lawsuit and that remain on the shelves of our public library system and that the people reading them advocated for their removal. What that tells me is that censorship is unceasing once it begins.”

As news of the vote made it to the overflow crowd waiting outside, people began to cheer and hug each other. 

Schneider smiled when asked her thoughts on the vote. 

“I’m happy for the library to be open,” she said. “I want the pornographic filth removed. I love the library. I worked there. It’s not really a library, it’s a resource center, and I’m happy we still have it.”

4 thoughts on “Llano libraries remain open — for now

  1. I for one do not support the closure of our public library. While there is a need to protect the integrity of our libraries, we must not infringe upon the rights and freedoms of our populace. I recommend marking books that express a sincere interest towards porn or other explicit sexual content, and anyone wishing to check a book containing sexual explicit material, must be of legal age, or check out by a parent or guardian.

  2. The library board/commissioners brought this suit on us. The people of Llano County oppose their actions. Let them bear the costs for their most personal vendetta against our 1st and 14th Amendment rights.

  3. The county should not continue to fight a case they will ultimately lose. Swallow your pride, commissioner’s, and save the county your limited financial resources instead of continuing to threaten the closure of the library system the vast majority of your citizens highly value.

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