Llano County Library in federal lawsuit over removed books

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A lawsuit filed by Llano County residents against their county government and library system was heard before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pittman on Friday, where attorneys began their case for an order to return “removed” books in public libraries.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the books were targeted for removal because of their content, while the defense claims the books were removed for other reasons.

Before the court session in The Travis County Republican Party sent an email urged supporters to fill the courtroom. The email calls the removed books “pornographic material” — such as Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, and Dawn McMillan’s I Need a New Ass!

“Activists are not only no longer hiding their intentions, but are openly advocating against restrictions placed on minor children without parental permission,” the email said.

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 she described as “pornographic filth” to co-defendant and Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham. She asked that the books not be banned and instead be moved to the Adult section, expressing her fear that “radicals are coming to town and banning a book I agree with, like the Bible.”

In his testimony, Cunningham said he did not read the list before sending it to Milum.

“I wanted to defuse the situation as quickly as possible to resolve it,” Cunningham said.

Tina Castellan, former head librarian at 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 “remove” (remove) books from the library’s collection. For Castellan, books will be removed if they meet “two or three” of the library’s “MUSTIE” criteria: Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial, Irrelevant, Elsewhere.

The attorneys asked Castellan whether she believed the removed books sufficiently met the criteria for removal; she said they weren’t.

On October 21, 2021, Castellan was instructed to cease these activities by Amber Millum, Director of Llano County Library Systems. After this point Milum began the killing; in her deposition she says she never read the books before the removal.

“Patrons had problems, I talked to them and learned what those problems were,” Millum said.

Millum testified on cross-examination that she removed many of the books because they had not been checked enough.

For librarians like Castellan, such undercirculated titles can be put on display to try to increase circulation, a practice she testified she did for other books. Milum did not try to promote.

Interestingly, Millum also testified that the books were still available for inspection by patrons.

However, some caveats apply: the books are no longer in the library catalog, they are in a non-public section of the library and can only be read in the library. The move to what plaintiffs call a “secret collection” (the lead defense attorney objected to that characterization) was not publicized through the library system’s newsletter, bulletin boards or social media.

“You just have to know they’re there,” Castellan said.

Millum defended the move, claiming they also hold “classics” in the same collection. She could not name such works.

The hearing will resume on Monday.

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