A rural Texas county just blinked on library closures. Pressure worked

By | April 14, 2023

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent write:

It isn’t every day that the ruminations of local bureaucrats in a small rural Texas county become national news. But when commissioners in Llano County — population 21,000 — voted Thursday to keep its three-branch library system open, the moment was closely monitored by the biggest news organizations in the country.

That’s because Llano County has become a national symbol of local right-wing censorship efforts after officials threatened to close its libraries entirely rather than allow offending materials to remain on shelves. Under intense scrutiny, the commission blinked. Its leader acknowledged feeling pressure from “social media” and “news media.”

The commissioners’ apparent reluctance for Llano to be seen as a locus of censorship points to an unexpected development: Skirmishes emanating from book bans at schools and libraries in red states and counties, once localized affairs, are becoming viral national sensations. And the American mainstream appears to be paying attention.

Like many other similar conflicts, this one was triggered by a single Llano resident, Bonnie Wallace, who objected in 2021 to library books she pronounced “pornographic filth.” A bunch were removed, including unobjectionable materials such as Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”

The county also dissolved its libraries’ advisory board and reconstituted it with advocates of book removal, including Wallace herself. After other residents sued for the books’ return, a judge ordered the books placed back on the shelf, prompting the county to consider shutting the libraries pending the suit’s resolution.

At Thursday’s hearing, several of Llano’s self-designated commissars of book purging read explicit sex scenes from young adult books, but they went further, advocating for closure. One said: “I am for closing the library until we get this filth off the shelves.”

But one of the big surprises of these sagas has been outbreaks of resistance to book purges in the reddest places, and here again, some locals dissented. One said: “We have to be a community that values knowledge.” Another fretted: “We are all over the media, and this is making us look pretty bad as a community.” [Continue reading…]