AUSTIN (KXAN) — A lawsuit brought by Llano County residents against their county government and library system had a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman on Friday, where attorneys began their case for an injunction to return “removed” books to the public libraries.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that the books were targeted for removal due to their content, while the defense argued that the books were removed due to other reasons.
Prior to the hearing, the Travis County Republican Party sent out an email calling for supporters to pack the courtroom. The email calls the removed books “pornographic materials” — such as Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen”, Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” and Dawn McMillan’s “I need a New Butt!”
“Not only do activists not hide their intentions anymore, but they openly advocate against limits provided to minor children without parents’ permission,” the email reads.
The removals began in December 2021, after the Llano County Commissioners’ Court dissolved the library board and created a new advisory board.
One of the defendants, Bonnie Wallace of the recently re-created Llano County Advisory Board, sent a list of books that she determined to be “pornographic filth” to co-defendant and Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham. She asked that the books not be banned and instead moved to an “Adult” section, stating her fear that “radicals come to town and ban a book that I do agree with, like the Bible.”
In his testimony, Cunningham said that he did not read the list prior to sending it to Milum.
“I wanted to neutralize the situation as quickly as possible in order to get it resolved,” Cunningham said.
Tina Castelan, former head librarian at the Llano Library, was the first to testify in the case.
In her testimony, she explained how she would select and order new books for the library, and how staff would “weed” (remove) books from the library’s collection. For Castelan, the books would be removed if they met “two or three” of the library’s “M.U.S.T.I.E.” criteria: Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial, Irrelevant, Elsewhere.
Attorneys asked Castelan if, in her opinion, the removed books met enough of the criteria for weeding; she said they did not.
On Oct. 21, 2021, Castelan was instructed to cease these activities by Amber Milum, Llano County Library Systems Director. After this point, Milum began the cull; in her testimony she says that she never read the books prior to removal.
“Patrons had issues, I talked to them and learned what those issues were,” Milum said.
Milum testified during cross examination that she removed many of the books because they weren’t being checked out enough.
For librarians like Castelan, such under-circulated titles could be put on display to attempt to boost check outs, a practice that she testified to doing for other books. Milum did not attempt such promotion.
Interestingly, Milum also testified that the books are still available to be checked out by patrons.
However, some caveats apply: the books are no longer in the library’s catalogue, they are in a non-public section of the library and can only be read at the library. The move to what the plaintiffs call a “secret collection” (the lead defense attorney objected to this characterization) was not publicized via the library system’s newsletter, bulletin boards or social media.
“You would just have to know that they are there,” Castelan said.
Milum defended the action, claiming that they also kept “classics” in the same collection. She could not name any such works.
The hearing will resume Monday.