By Andy Rose, CNN
A rural Texas county that was ordered by a federal judge to return banned books to its public library shelves is now considering shutting down its libraries entirely.
A meeting of the Commissioners Court of Llano County on Thursday will include discussion of whether to “continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County library system pending further guidance from the Federal Courts,” according to the meeting agenda.
The meeting comes after federal Judge Robert Pitman on March 30 ordered the Llano County Library System — which includes three branches — to return 12 children’s books to its shelves that had been removed, many because of their LGBTQ and racial content.
Books ordered to return to shelves included “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings.
Seven residents had sued county officials in April 2022, claiming their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when books deemed inappropriate by some people in the community and Republican lawmakers were removed from public libraries or access was restricted.
According to the lawsuit, the county commissioners kicked out the members of the library board in 2021 and replaced them with a new board that demanded review of the content of all its books. That led to several books being removed from its catalog access being cut off to an e-book service that included some of the disputed titles.
The defendants argued the books were removed as part of a regular “weeding” process following the library’s existing policies.
The judge later gave the library system 24 hours to place the books back onto shelves, saying “the First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination.”
The Commissioners Court agenda item for the upcoming meeting does not include a reason for the possible closure of the library. What it does say is that the discussion is “regarding the continued employment and/or status of the Llano County Library System employees and the feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”
“It appears that the defendants would rather shut down the Library System entirely — depriving thousands of Llano county residents of access to books, learning resources, and meeting space — than make the banned books available to residents who want to read them,” Ellen Leonida, the attorney for plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement to CNN.
The Llano County commissioners and members of the Library Board have appealed the judge’s ruling. They did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The next hearing in the case is set for April 27 to consider possible sanctions against the defendants for failing to appear for depositions in the case.
The case comes amid ongoing fights across the country to protect access to books in response to a banning boom that has taken shape in the US — including in K-12 schools, universities and public libraries.
In 2022, the number of attempts to censor library books reached an unparalleled record high since the American Library Association began documenting data about book censorship over 20 years ago, the organization said in March.
It cataloged 1,269 demands to censor library books in 2022 — nearly double the number of challenges in 2021.
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CNN’s Alaa Elassar and Taylor Romine contributed to this report.