Llano County Patrons’ Anti-Censorship Lawsuit Seeks to Put Books Back on the Shelf—UPDATE

UPDATE: On March 31, a Federal District Court Judge in Texas handed down an injunction stopping the ongoing removal of books from the Llano County library system. The decision will immediately reinstate books that government officials have already removed from the system. The court found that library officials violated the First Amendment because they had targeted nationally acclaimed books based on their viewpoint and content. The Court’s order states: “The Court finds it substantially likely that the removals do not further any substantial government interest—much less any compelling one.”

Three of the books banned by Llano County Library System

Since April, users of the Llano County Library System, TX, have been waging a federal lawsuit against county commissioners, members of the recently reconstituted library board, and the library director. In May, they sought a preliminary injunction that would restore books removed last year from the library collection under pressure from a group of residents who objected to what they viewed as inappropriate content for children.

Under the proposed order, the injunction would return to the “publicly visible and accessible shelves” books “removed or concealed”—Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson; They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Spinning by Tillie Walden; In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak; It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robie Harris; My Butt Is So Noisy!, I Broke My Butt!, and I Need a New Butt! By Dawn McMillan; Larry the Farting Leprechaun, Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose, Freddie the Farting Snowman, and Harvey the Heart Had Too Many Farts by Jane Bexley; Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings; Shine and Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle; Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero; and Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.

The injunction would also prevent restricting access to books on the bibliotheca cloudLibrary ebook platform, which the library system used to replace OverDrive, the platform it indefinitely suspended late in 2021, as well as enjoin the closing of future meetings of the Llano County Library Advisory Board.

Serving a population of more than 21,000 in Central Texas, the Llano County Library System maintains three locations—the main library in Llano, a branch in Kingsland, and the Lakeshore branch in Buchanan Dam. The system is overseen by the county Commissioners Court, headed by the county judge. The court appoints the library board.

The plaintiffs, described in the suit as “adult residents of Llano County and visitors, users, card-carrying members, and ardent supporters of Llano County’s public libraries,” say that the books, including those that deal with issues of gender and race, were systematically removed because of the ideas they contain. They claim that county and library officials violated the First Amendment by engaging in “viewpoint discrimination,” “censorship based on a government actor’s subjective judgment that the content of protected speech is offensive or inappropriate,” and the Fourteenth Amendment, by depriving plaintiffs of due process by not providing prior notice of such decisions as removing books or terminating access to ebooks, as well as disbanding the library board and reconstituting it with new board members who had pushed to ban books from the library system.

The defendants have moved to dismiss, maintaining that the plaintiffs “are challenging government speech to which the First Amendment does not apply.” The defendants claim, “When government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says.” Citing a Supreme Court decision, the defense claims that “public libraries should be afforded ‘broad discretion’ in making content and collection decisions.” In response to the preliminary injunction, the defense also argued that the plaintiffs can access the disputed books through interlibrary loan or via an “in-house checkout” system in which donated books are made available for checkout but are not displayed or shelved in public areas of the library.

A decision on the preliminary injunction, as well as the defendants’ motion to dismiss, could be handed down in January, 2023. A jury trial on the original suit has been set for October 23, 2023.



At the root of the controversy were a series of children’s books by Dawn McMillan and Jane Bexley. In summer 2021, Rhonda Schneider—a former Llano County library employee who is now a member of the Llano County Library Advisory Board and is currently one of the defendants in the lawsuit—brought one of the books to the attention of library user Rochelle Wells, also a defendant and current Library Advisory Board member.

In a court deposition. Wells said that Schneider told her at the end of spring 2021 that in the book I Need a New Butt! by Dawn McMillan, “there was a child with his pants pulled down, and someone was drawing on [his behind].”

Wells, in her deposition, said Schneider told her she was concerned for children. When she saw the picture, Wells testified, she understood what Schneider meant. “I realized this could set my children up and other children in Llano up for molestation,” she said in the deposition. 

“The books are definitely not pornographic,” one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Ellen Leonida, told LJ, “They’re children’s books about butts and farts. Nothing remotely pornographic about them.”

Wells visited the Llano branch and approached Director Amber Milum and the branch’s children’s librarian, Tina Castelan—who was later promoted to head librarian at the Llano branch before resigning in September because of Milum’s lack of response to a letter of grievance over such issues as staffing and working conditions—and asked them to keep the book out of the library.

They said they would not remove the book from the library.

Wells was upset by the response, Castelan told LJ. “Then she got a bunch of her friends to come into the library and put in complaints about it as well.”

According to court documents, around August 2021 three of the defendants—Milum, Commissioner Jerry Don Moss, and County Judge Ron Cunningham—responded to citizens’ complaints, resulting in the removal of children’s picture books that depicted bodily functions or nudity, including Maurice Sendak’s 1971 Caldecott Honor Book In the Night Kitchen and Robie H. Harris’s It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, an award-winning sex education book with color illustrations of the human body designed for parents and children ages 10 and older.

An email in the court documents from Milum to Moss confirms that she spoke with Moss on August 3 and removed My Butt Is so Noisy! from the shelves and the system on August 5, “and once I Broke my Butt! was returned by Rochelle Wells I deleted it from the system on August 9th.”

Records show that I Need a New Butt! was deleted from the library’s catalog on July 20, 2021.

The challengers’ focus soon moved to books on the watchlist developed by state Rep. Matt Krause (R–Fort Worth), which targeted 850 titles that "might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex." On October 25, Krause sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency and school district superintendents asking them to identify whether any of the books on his 16-page list appeared on the shelves of Texas school libraries.

The 16-page list was referenced by Wells in a Nov. 11 email, which she referred to as the “16-page list of CRT [critical race theory] and LGBTQ book(s).” She said that another patron had found the list in an issue of The Texan, which was being combing through to see “which we have in Llano County libraries.” She wrote, “We will be sending a list of the ones that are found to be inappropriate, along with a summary, to Commissioner Moss.”

When news of the Krause list reached Llano County, Milum warned Barbara “Suzette” Baker, head librarian at Kingsland, that “With everything going on with the people being angry at almost everything the libraries are doing…. We all need to watch what we say.” She said that Schneider was “going door to door and building an army.”

Cunningham and Milum met on November 9. As described in a November 10 email, Cunningham told her that “(A)ny and all books that depict any type of sexual activity or questionable nudity are to be pulled immediately. I am also requesting that any of these books that are available online be pulled as well.”

On November 10, defendant and current library board member Bonnie Wallace sent Cunningham an email saying that “pornographic filth” had been discovered at all three branch libraries, attaching a list of dozens of books in the children’s section and recommending they be relocated to the adult section.

She wrote that this was “the only way that I can think of to prohibit future censorship of books I do agree with, mainly the Bible, if more radicals come to town and want to use the fact that we censored these books against us.”

According to a November 11 email from Wells, Moss and Cunningham “instructed Amber, the head librarian, to remove certain books, both physical books and ebooks (via the LIBBY app).” She said Milum was told to remove Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison and Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe.

Cunningham forwarded Wallace’s list, based in large part on the Krause list, to Milum, who then compiled an Excel spreadsheet and wrote Cunningham, “We are all working on getting books pulled. I will also work on the lists that she provided,” saying, “We are working on all children and junior books.” Several of the titles were weeded entirely, according to the procedure followed by the library system, Milum testified. They would have been withdrawn because of lack of circulation or damage to the book, she said. Caste and They Called Themselves the KKK were among those taken out of circulation first, and Milum testified that she weeded Being Jazz on November 12 because it had not been getting checked out.

Baker reviewed the books Milum indicated were weeded in fall and winter 2021, and said in court documents that only one, Freakboy, met applicable weeding criteria. “By library system standards, [Caste] was a popular book and not eligible for weeding,” she added. “If it was in poor condition, it should have been replaced due to popularity.” Although They Called Themselves the KKK had not been checked out in three years, it was the only book in the system on the history of the Ku Klux Klan, which should have made it ineligible for weeding.



The Llano County Library System had shared access to more than 17,000 ebooks via OverDrive as a member of the Central Texas Digital Consortium. However, when Milum informed Moss and Cunningham in a December 2, 2021 email that “As of now, there’s not a way for users to identify and block individual [ebook] titles from others” with OverDrive, Cunningham requested a plan detailing how to apply filters to the platform.

Another email from Wells said that the upcoming commissioners meeting would discuss “substituting OverDrive with a system that support (sic) our library only, so we choose the books. (Currently we share OverDrive with 50 libraries.)”

In a December 13 email Milum informed Jim Monastra, OverDrive account manager for public libraries, that the Commissioners Court had decided to suspend the library’s OverDrive subscription, explaining, “We have a group of concerned patrons worried about the book Gender Queer being seen by children. I have tried to tell everyone how to use filters and the links for kids and teens, but they don’t think it’s enough.”

However, cutting off access to the Central Texas Digital Consortium’s collection also had a negative impact on adult patrons, especially those who are unable to access the library’s print collections. In a letter to The Llano News published on December 22, 2021, Rose White wrote, “What this boycott will do is actually harm adults, especially the disabled or isolated ones, and it is a cruel disservice to people living in Llano County. It’s cutting us off from what has been a free online service that is easily accessible from our homes. This decision shrinks our world and our lives, and makes many of us less—even smaller than we are now.”

Following the OverDrive suspension, the Commissioners Court then moved to dissolve the current library board and create a new Library Advisory Board. The chairman, Gay Baskin, another defendant in the suit, was a holdover from the old library board. Newly appointed members include Wallace, Wells, and Schneider.

The advisory board quickly moved to seal itself off from public scrutiny, voting on March 3 this year to hold meetings in private. It told librarians that all new library books must be presented to and approved by the Library Advisory Board before purchasing them.

Chiarello told LJ, “Before the takeover of the board, the responsibility for selecting books was delegated to a librarian, a professionally trained librarian. And now, the members of the board, who are not trained in library sciences and have no degree in that area or expertise, are individually approving new purchases for the library.”

Among the members purged from the old board was Jeanne Puryear, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who said in a declaration, “While I served on the library board, all of our meetings were open to the public.” When the county “appointed a new library board seemingly intent on dismantling the entire Library system, I was stunned at first,” she continued. “Now I am angry. I feel cheated and taken advantage of because I pay county taxes that are supposed to support our public libraries when all they have done is destroy them. The county’s censorship is denying me of my constitutional rights, and I will never accept that.”

Baker said in her testimony that in early 2022 she attended the first two meetings of the reconstituted library board, which were held in the public meeting rooms at Kingsland. She said Milum reprimanded her for attending the meetings. She then received an email from Milum addressed to all Llano County librarians “instructing us that we were not allowed to attend Library Board meetings and could not even use our vacation time to attend, per County Judge Ron Cunningham’s orders.”

It would not be long before Baker herself fell victim to the institutional climate in the Llano County system.

In February, Baker had posted a sign on the marquee in front of the Kingsland library that said, “We put the ‘lit’ in literature.” She also put up a display of books by a sign reading, “Come check out our ‘lit’ books!” The display included books that had been historically targeted by bans, including To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, and Fahrenheit 451.

The next day, Baker testified, Milum ordered the “lit” message board sign and book display taken down. On March 9, Baker was terminated for “creating a disturbance,” “insubordination,” “violation of policies,” and “failure to follow instructions.”

Later that month, plaintiff Leila Green Little started a GoFundMe fundraiser for Baker. Baker has since filed a wrongful termination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Both Milum and Wallace declined to speak to LJ, referring the matter to case lawyers, who had not responded to requests for information at press time.

Requests to speak with Judge Cunningham have been denied based on the pending legal action. However, in a statement referenced by the Washington Post in April, he said that the county was “cognizant of the concerns of our citizens pertaining to our library system.”

He also said that “a portion of the public and media have chosen to propagate disinformation that Llano County (and other rural communities) are operating with political or phobic motivations,” which he denied was the case.



“I knew that there needed to be a voice of opposition, because there wasn’t one,” Little told LJ. “All that my elected officials were hearing was from people who were in favor of censoring books.”

“This is about censorship that we saw occurring right here in our backyards. [The court case] says that in our hometown, there’s a group of people that want books pulled off the shelf because they disagree with the content and the viewpoint. And there’s another group of people, my six co-plaintiffs and myself, and we disagree with that.”

Little, who is president of the board of the Llano County Library System Foundation, a fundraising group on which fellow plaintiffs Puryear and Diane Moster also serve, said she has learned a tremendous amount about the legal process, the history of censorship, Supreme Court case law related to the First Amendment, and organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA) and the Texas Library Association (TLA). Now, she said, she is enrolled as a graduate student at the University of North Texas, taking classes in librarianship.

If the defendants prevail, “It would set a horrifying precedent, because it would really strike at the core of the First Amendment,” Leonida told LJ.

Following the filing of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs received support from TLA and prominent members of the library community.

Former Nashville Public Library Director Kenton Oliver, previously a member of the ALA Executive Board and president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, submitted a declaration in support of the plaintiffs.

“If Llano County public officials removed these books because they disagreed with or were offended by the viewpoints expressed in those books, it is my professional opinion that it constitutes censorship in violation of basic intellectual freedom principles and ALA professional standards.”

“We have been involved in a climate of censorship and book banning for the last year, since the Krause list came out,” TLA Executive Director Shirley Robinson told LJ. “It wasn’t too long before there were citizens attending library board meetings and going to city council meetings and county commissioner meetings, demanding that books be removed without going through the proper due process.”

Little, Robinson said, had reached to TLA to seek counsel and spread awareness about what was happening. “It became a good collaboration, because what they were experiencing in Llano was what we started seeing evolve across the rest of the state in other public libraries.”

The Krause list has fostered a climate of fear and mistrust between public librarians and the community, including government leaders. “We have seen a lot of librarians leave the profession,” Robinson noted. “One of the real tragedies of this is that it gave groups like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn that spark to ignite the base of their supporters and to grow that base and just create even more chaos in school board meetings and city council meetings and attack librarians.”

It has put librarians in a position where they have had to defend their professionalism, she said. Much time has been spent explaining to the media, local leaders, and government officials the training, certification, and education that librarians go through to become professionals.

“The place that librarians are in right now is a very different place than two years ago, when they were much more empowered to follow policies correctly and served patrons in the way that they learned to serve patrons when they were getting their library degree,” Robinson added.

Recently TLA launched Texans for the Right to Read, a grassroots coalition that reaches out to librarians, library workers, and members of the public who want to join the fight against censorship. To learn more, visit texansfortherighttoread.com.

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