A group of Texas residents who are “card-carrying members” of their local library system are suing officials in the county where they live, claiming officials engaged in censorship in violation of the First Amendment when they banned a slew of books the officials deemed inappropriate.
The library patrons filed the federal lawsuit against officials in Llano County, which is located northwest of Austin, naming the county judge, county commissioners and library officials as defendants.
The group says that the county government’s stated purpose of removing “pornographic” material from public libraries was actually a campaign of political and religious censorship.
“Though Plaintiffs differ in their ages, professions, and individual religious and political beliefs, they are fiercely united in their love for reading public library books and in their belief that the government cannot dictate which books they can and cannot read,” the lawsuit reads.
Jennifer Buchanan, Llano County court coordinator, said the county would not comment on the pending lawsuit.
Efforts among Republican leaders to ban certain books have ramped up across the country, with a particular focus on titles with themes about race and LGBTQ issues. The American Library Association said it tracked an unprecedented four-fold increase in efforts to ban books last year.
Among the books removed from the Llano County library system, according to the lawsuit, were Maurice Sendak’s children’s book In the Night Kitchen, in which one character appears nude in one scene, and Robie H. Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health.
Other popular nonfiction books were also removed from circulation, including Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, for which Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson earned a slew of awards.
The group of residents says county officials claimed they were getting rid of books to protect children from graphic sexual content. But the group says that none of the removed books were pornographic and officials instead targeted books that conflicted with their political and religious views.
County officials also wanted to ban two books from OverDrive, a digital catalog that gave library patrons access to more than 17,000 e-books and audiobooks that the plaintiffs say was frequently used by older residents and residents with physical disabilities, the suit says.
Because they couldn’t control the titles on OverDrive, the Llano County Commissioners instead voted to suspend the use of OverDrive altogether in December, the suit says, even though it has a mechanism for parental controls.
The plaintiffs also criticized how county officials reshaped the library’s board.
In January, commissioners dissolved the existing library advisory board and reconstituted it to give the commissioners more power over appointments to the board, according to DailyTrib.com. The new board voted to make its meetings private, which the group of residents said violated their 14th Amendment right to due process.