Update: Libraries & Politics, A Dangerous Mix

A year ago, I posted
about the book banning in neighboring Llano County. Since then, a group of Llano library patrons and friends challenged the ban. And now there’s good news to report. District court judge Robert  Pitman ordered that the banned books be immediately restored to the library shelves and card catalog, pending the October trial on the merits of the case. Here’s a brief Dallas News report of the ruling.

And here are the books some Llano County residents wanted banned, as Judge Pitman remarks, “because they disagree with their political viewpoints and dislike their subject matter.” You’ll be surprised–or maybe you won’t. This is only a fraction of the books banned across Texas, where over 800 books have been banned from school libraries. And from your schools and libraries, too, as this political hysteria fans out across the country.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson;
They Called Themselves the K.K.K: 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 LeprechaunGary the Goose and His Gas on the LooseFreddie the Farting Snowman, and Harvey the Heart Has Too Many Farts by Jane Bexley;
Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings;
Shine by Lauren Myracle;
Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale by Lauren Myracle;
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero; and
Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.

Leila Green Little, the lead plaintiff in the Llano County case, is a mom. When these books were back on the library shelf, she checked out four of them, took them home, and read three (My Butt is So Noisy, Freddie the Farting Snowman, and In The Night Kitchen) to her young children. (Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, was for her.) “We got to have a really great conversation about censorship,” Leila told me, “and why some words and ideas are offensive to some people, and what makes public libraries special.” Kudos to her for using these books (and this sad situation) to help her children understand why books matter and why they must be defended. Thanks also to the rest of the plaintiffs in this case and others everywhere. Your courage is inspiring.

And one last thing. When we talk about the threat of book banning, we normally focus on the way it limits readers’ access to ideas. But book bans can have an even more dangerous and insidious effect–a chilling effect–on writers and publishers. Writing a book takes a huge amount of time and creative energy. Publishing a book requires skilled people, time, and money. Authors and publishers (especially publishers) may be reluctant to invest in a project that’s going to be kept off library shelves. At a recent count, there are some 16,000 public and 95,000 school libraries. That’s a big hunk of market share to lose, and publishers are increasingly watchful of their bottom lines.

Here’s the judge’s ruling (26 pg pdf) for those of you who like to dig in the weeds: Pitman Order re Llano Case

UPDATE 6/3/23. This case will be heard at the Fifth Circuit on 6/7/23.

  • For a full coverage of all the developments in this case, plus commentaries and related web pages, see this comprehensive website.  It’s an excellent historical record for those who are following this case. Thanks to Leila Green Little for this valuable compilation.

74 comments on “Update: Libraries & Politics, A Dangerous Mix

  1. Agree, Susan. I hope we all think a great deal about the Nazis in 1930 and the dangerous parallels to our own time. America dodged a bullet when Huey Long was not available to run for the WH in 1936, and when Father Coughlin’s increasingly extremist, anti-Semitic radio show was unplugged by his new bishop, Archbishop Edward Mooney. Writing the Dahlias series has taught me more than I ever learned about that era in my college history courses!

  2. When I was a child in the late 1940s, my father used to rail against “the government.” By which he meant Harry Truman and all those damned holdover Democratic New Deal agencies who were imposing too many regulations from Washington. In the library incident I’ve been writing about, it’s a county government, directed by a few who want to exclude those who don’t share their views. When we say “government,” it can be helpful to think about which one.

  3. It seems that now it’s the government trying to take all our rights. Things seem to be getting progressively worse – not better. I will be 90 in August and I am so disappointed in our governments actions.

  4. Think about the rise of Nazism in Germany. One of the first things they did was to ban and burn books. They wanted to control what people thought. Unfortunately it seems to be working here if we don’t stop it. As for these militant Christians, they are not true Christians. Jesus said the two most important commandments are to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbors as yourselves. Not sure about the first one but they definitely do not follow the second.

  5. They can’t explain their platforms because they don’t have one. They are simply repeating words they hear. Our sheriff spouts all kinds of radical right trigger and dog whistle words and when finally confronted by a county commissioner, his response was that he was shocked that the commissioner wasn’t aware of such critical issues destroying America and our county. I encourage you to demand they actually identify their strategies for enforcement.

  6. Theresa, it is terrifying when we literally have no choice–and especially at the local level and NOW. Forces for exclusion are doing all they can to control options in as many aspects of our private and civic lives as they can. Many of us join you in your fear.

  7. Our school board in SE PA is made of zones and crosses counties. Since I am a librarian and have seen the buzz words that come before and during the book banning, this is the first time I cannot vote for a candidate. There are 3 candidates-one is for Religion in public schools-we have a lot of Bible churches. The other 2 state parental rights. The youngest is for keeping anti American curriculum out of schools. None of them will explain their platforms. The youngest has his dad running for township supervisor. I fear what that means for the public library, I work for.

  8. I majored in religion and history (double major). I may try to get my hands on the book you mentioned, but in my academic career, I’ve probably heard it. I’ve challenged the “Christians” to give me ONE”red letter” [supposedly the words of Jesus] quote from the New Testament supporting their views on homosexuality–they can’t because there isn’t one (Thank you Jimmy Carter for making the same observation). If these folks are asking themselves “What Would Jesus Do”, I’m pretty sure he’d tell them to get their nose out of everybody else’s business and work on their OWN sins! I no longer attend an organized church–I’m not sure God approves of them any more.

  9. I just got it. And I’m already shouting at the “Christians” saying that Trump would save us from the downward spiral of this country “that they love so much.” It’s infuriating.

  10. It’s getting worse every day. I just read two articles about what Missouri has done: created a law that requires librarians to pull anything “obscene” from the shelves as well as threatened with jail time for providing access to “pornographic materials.” Then a second article about Missouri legislature defunding public libraries by removing ALL state monies previously dedicated to them. One GOP legislator said his goal was to shut down “liberal public libraries that groom innocent children” and replace them with Christian-funded libraries. I live in a state dominated by what people call “liberals” so for now my state is busy dealing with real problems but I live in a red county and there are whispers about similar campaigns in our county. But I have to say – librarians are quiet radicals! My local librarian attended the annual librarian conference and said attendees were prepping for this very kind of thing. BTW – the novel, Our Missing Hearts, deals with this very topic. Check it out!

  11. Lynn and Nan: This book lays out the history of this movement. https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-John-Wayne-Evangelicals-Corrupted/dp/1631495739 Perhaps you’ve read it? I certainly learned from it.

    I should add that the author is not on a wild rant. She is a professor of history in a Christian college, has a solid academic background, and understands the world she is writing about.
    Check her out: https://calvin.edu/directory/people/kristin-kobes-du-mez

  12. Oh yeah. I was a Christian for 35 years. These Christian Nationalists apparently have never read the words of Jesus.

  13. Susan–After what I’ve seen in the last few years, I’m about convinced that the biggest “hate group” in the US is the Far Right “Christian” Republicans. I double-majored in religion and history and every time I hear a politician pontificate about “God told me”, I wonder if he/she has actually READ the Bible, much less studied it.

  14. That’s interesting. Where were these books shared with kindergartners, and what books?

  15. Now that you mention it, I dimly remember a fuss about comic books. But not in my house. I got them all the time — Caspar the friendly ghost, Superman, even classic stories as comic books. It also reminds me of the 60s, when jerks destroyed rock n roll records, like the Beatles. Also not in my house.

  16. Kudos to y our mother, Lynn! What a wonderful–and valuable–example she set for her daughter!

  17. I understand the desire to turn to the principal in these situations. And I understand the need for parents to be involved (if that’s their choice) in their children’s reading. But taking books off the shelf means that they are only available on request–which means in practical terms that they are inaccessible to readers.If a book meets the library’s acquisition standards (wherever these are set–ideally by trained librarians and reading teachers), it belongs on the shelf, where it can be browsed and sampled. If it doesn’t meet that standard, it doesn’t. (Which of course raises other issues.) My personal feeling–love to hear from librarians on this practice.

    And I’m curious, since someone else commented about book banning coming from the left. Here in Texas, the banning comes from the right. Am I uninformed? Overlooking something obvious? Biased in my view by my Texas experience? Of course, I’m familiar with concerns over books with racist language/ideas–but is there something else? Maybe someone can tell me what other books are being taken off the shelf at the demand of the left/liberals in the community.

  18. Thank you for asking for the parents permission. I have personally seen a superintendent by pass the parents permission for reading controversial sex education books to the kindergarteners through 3rd graders. I asked her if the parents are ok with this and she said that she wont ask them because she knows of some parents that wouldn’t approve of these books being read to their children. She then told me that someone has to teach the children these ideas…I was shocked…it really bothered me.

  19. Book banning has increased in the last 4 years. It is a political battle and makes me sick. It is coming from both the conservatives and liberal thinkers. As with all political issues, it causes division. I am a librarian at a small rural school. I am in the process of weeding books as I transfer the large very old collection of books from one library space to a new one. Because I am educated and aware of the books that are questionable to parents of all walks of life, I am being vigilant to keep the books that we know are controversial out of the reach of young students and give them to the principel so she or he can distribute the books to the student as she or he deems age appropriate, and of course with the parents permission. I am not banning the books, I am creating a peaceful and child friendly library that all the parents can feel that their children are safe in. I don’t understand why most school librarians are not doing this…Public libraries usually have the childrens collections in a separate area from the teen and adult books and media, this makes it much easier to keep questionable books and materials out of the hands of the younger children. I ran across a book in our collections the other day that was very graphic with sexual content that was quite disturbing to me and so I gave it tho the principal to keep in her office or a safe place and she was perfectly ok with it… I believe that if we can work together in this situation, it doesn’t matter what we think and believe about content in books, we are here to serve not judge. Remember that all cultures and families have different views and ideas, the parents are paying heavy taxes for our income and for their child’s education. Lets be smart, trustworthy and responsible adults. It could possibly temper down the heated debates and chaos.

  20. I was near-sighted from birth–and I loved books from the first one I saw! One aunt claimed that my first words were “Read to me” By age 11 or so, I’d read everything in my elementary school library, so Mother took me to the public library to borrow books. I’d been reading Perry Mason mysteries serialized in the Saturday Evening Post for more than a year and wanted to get the whole books. I chose two, but the librarian refused to check them out to me, suggesting a book of fairy tales! I returned to the car and told Mother what had happened. She got out of the car and walked into the library with fire in her eyes. “What right do YOU have to refuse to allow my daughter to check out these books? I monitor what she reads and I will decided what is or is not appropriate for her–not you. Your job is to check out the books!”. Then she sent me to the shelves to pick out two or three Perry Mason mysteries.

    That was the end of the old librarian trying to censor my reading. I read Gone with the Wind at age 12 and Peyton Place before I was 13. My mother did check the titles I took out, but never said I could not read them. She said later that she figured that if there was something I didn’t understand, I’d ask her or (more likely) skip parts that were over my head. I’ve read GWTW several times since and each time I pick up things that I’ve never noticed before.

    I feel sorry for children who aren’t allowed to broaden their horizons. I feel sorrow and anger for those who feel that THEIR beliefs are the only “right” ones.

    I seem to recall being REQUIRED to read some of the books shown in your illustrations above–some I liked, some I didn’t. Either way, it didn’t hurt me. I’m from NC and protested the “Speaker Ban” law when I was in college (Communist speakers were banned–even if they weren’t Communist LOL)

    I’m tired of the Far Right trying to tell me what to think and believe!

  21. Little Free Libraries originated in this area and our neighborhood enjoys their presence. That said, our local activist group heard a speaker from Carlton College last week on her experiences from both the right and left pressuring teachers not to teach “triggering” (i.e. controversial) materials even including World War II holocaust literature. The good news is that there is definitely a strong reaction to this travesty.

  22. Susan,Thank you, you have given me hope. Our governor here in Florida is banning books like crazy. I fully expect the burnings to begin soon. I am a 78 year old retired teacher and I am ready to march on Tallahassee. My electric wheel chair and I are ready to roll!

  23. Agree 100%. These problems, the book banning and the rewrites to accommodate present-day sensitivities at the expense of erasing history are both dangerous and are coming from both extremes. Let’s return to the center and try to find common ground and understand one another. You know what helps with that…books! 😀

  24. Points taken, Susan.
    I live near Springfield,Ma where Dr. Seuss lived in his younger life and from where many of his book ideas originated.
    I’ve been to the Seuss museum and
    the museum states very clearly how prejudiced his views were and how he changed his thinking later in life.
    That’s why I think it’s important to keep original print to show how’s minds can change. Your idea of footnotes is an excellent idea.
    No books should be banned or rewritten.

    Susan H Replying inside your comment because WordPress is giving me no other option. Agree with you about the Seuss case, I think it was more a matter of concern about the brand and the negative impact of that on sales. A better solution: Keep the books and provide a strong introduction and useful page notes, so that the books become valuable teaching tools.

  25. And here it is AGAIN–a repeat of old habits, old fears, old desires for power over others.

  26. Susan Holyoke, your comment raises an interesting point, especially when it comes to Dr. Seuss. But it wasn’t the “left.” It was the owners of the copyright who pulled the books. From the NYT: The Seuss estate has pulled 6 of his books from the publisher’s catalog. The estate’s decision — which prompted breathless headlines on cable news and complaints about “cancel culture” from prominent conservatives — represents a dramatic step to update and curate Seuss’s body of work, acknowledging and rejecting some of his views while seeking to protect his brand and appeal. It also raises questions about whether and how an author’s works should be posthumously curated to reflect evolving social attitudes, and what should be preserved as part of the cultural record.

    “It will cause people to re-evaluate the legacy of Dr. Seuss, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Philip Nel, a children’s literature scholar at Kansas State University and the author of “Dr. Seuss: American Icon.” “There are parts of his legacy one should honor, and parts of his legacy that one should not.”

    He added: “They may be motivated by the fact that racism is bad for the brand, or they may be motivated by a deeper sense of racial justice.”

  27. It’s not a surprise to see graphic novels on the banned lists. As a former librarian and a senior, you’ll probably remember (I do) the 1950s fear of comic books.

  28. Yes, and back to the ugly America of the late 40s and 50s: the Red Scare, the Lavender Scare, the Hollywood blacklist, and more. Sadly, this is not a new thing.

  29. There’s definitely not enough positive news on the book banning front. Kudos to the brave people who are taking the matter to the courts–and to the courts that uphold the First Amendment.

  30. That’s a wonderful quote, Nancy, thanks. My mobility impairment is almost inconsequential. I have access to all the places in the universe, through reading. And not just books now. It’s the internet, which opens more doors than we can possibly imagine.

  31. A better solution: footnotes to explain the historical/political/social context of a term. I believe that kids are never too young to learn about footnotes. 🙂 But please also consider my reply to the comment about Dr. Seuss below.

  32. Agree. Fearful people who want everybody else to have the same fear: that someone else might want to share what belongs to them.

  33. Re “And just because a book is well recommended it doesn’t mean it is a book l will enjoy reading.” Exactly. We all bring our own baggage (history, interests, frustrations, angers, and yes fears) to our reading. Which means that while we may read the same physical book, we never read the SAME book.

  34. It’s so good to hear this. As a German with our own history of burning books during the Nazi area is so good to know that there are still people who fight back and win!

  35. I was in 7th grade I saw a book in the jr sr school library I wanted to check out. I couldn’t because it was a high school book. I told my mom she took me to the public library, I found the book they wouldn’t let me check it out either. My mom put it on her card.

    I think I read a few pages and decided it wasn’t for me.

    My friends who were forbidden books snuck them into the house and hid them. But they read the whole book.

    I was taught to decide what books I wanted to read. And just because a book is well recommended it doesn’t mean it is a book l will enjoy reading.

  36. Indeed a very powerful book. Its on several banned book lists and I heard one man explain that it was written to make white people feel bad.

  37. I was shocked to see Caste on the list. It’s one of the best written books I’ve read recently. Too many fearful people these days.

  38. Have you also heard of the sensitivity readers from England also being implemented in the Netherlands. For example, Roald Dahl’s books have been rewritten and words such as thick and bold are replaced. oompa loempa’s are replaced for “short people”. An unhealthy form of censorship to rewrite literature like this… and everyone seems to accept it so easily. 1984.

  39. Book banning is a horrendous act–we should all have the FREEDOM to chose what we want (or need) to read. If a parent doesn’t “like” a book or want their child to read it, then don’t read it. Don’t make decisions for everyone else or everyone else’s child. I make the decision as to what my child will read, not some random person with an axe to grind.

  40. Unfortunately it’s the extremes of both sides. The extreme left has banned some Dr. Seuss books and is spearheading the rewrites of other books.
    Any book banning/rewriting deletes the opportunity to learn from the prejudices of history.
    Remembering history gives us the chance to learn and do better.
    New books give us the opportunity to explore new ideas.
    I certainly don’t agree with all that is in print (past and/or present) yet I fervently believe no book should be banned.
    Thoughtful discussion is the key to keeping minds and communication open.

  41. If a parent doesn’t want the kid to read a specific book, bad idea but so be it. Just don’t then prevent the rest of us from having access to it!

  42. The quote for today on the MUTTS calendar is “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” It is attributed to Mason Cooley. What a wonderful thought. The gift of reading is an amazing education. China and Ruby and the Dahlias have taught me so much as have all the other books I have been blessed to read. That someone else might have control over what anyone reads and learns from is frightening. Thank you for all the adventures you and all the other authors of the world have taken me on. May we continue to enjoy and learn by our own choosing.

  43. The library was my favorite place growing up. I cleared out shelves in our tiny library as well as the Bookmobile. Books gave me information I needed to grow beyond my small hometown. I hate to think what some of these banning libraries are giving children to grow on.

  44. Whenever I hear about banning books I think about the old movie Fahrenheit 451. It was made in 1966 and made a profound impression on me as a book lover and a teenager. The book was written by Ray Bradbury in 1953. I never got a chance to read the book but have seen the movie several times. If you’ve never seen the movie you should.

  45. This is excellent news! Enough already with book banning. Did you see the NYT article that they want to edit classic books now? I won’t get started on my opinion about this.

  46. I grew up on a farm in Central Iowa. We didn’t have a very big library, but my Mom made sure she got books for us. She never told us what we could or couldn’t read. I don’t understand these folks who want to ban books.Thank goodness someone is fighting back.

  47. No, the government isn’t controlling us more and more. It’s the extreme Right.

  48. Thank you for opening so many eyes to the slow erosion of our rights! Hoping more people are aware of the dangers of banning books of all kinds.

  49. Thanks so much for sharing this with us Susan. It’t good to hear something positive for a change. Let’s hope sanity prevails in other areas of the country also!

  50. Kudos Susan, Controlling what is read and banning of books is a way of keeping a society ignorant. An ignorant society is a blinded society, an easy led society which is what the many in power want.

  51. The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.

    Mahatma Ghandi

  52. Kudos to the brave librarians and their warrior backup teams. Parents can censor the books their own children read, but they have no right to censor the books ALL children can read. Susan, your voice is an important one in the Hill Country. Stay the line, please!

  53. The book banning going on now is quite frightening since it is so widespread and controlled or instigated by so few people. Anyone can cause trouble or outright banning of anything, even if the person isn’t a parent or has no education or ability to reason. Even if they haven’t read the books. Access to ideas is vital to a democratic system of government, and we thought these issues were settled a long time ago. It is amazing how quickly this ultra conservative paranoia has taken root and spread. These actions were just so “out of the question,” so unthinkable, just a mere few years ago. How can we have gotten here? As a former librarian, I fought this fight for years, but it was just against a few crazies on the fringe. Democrats have let the conservatives quietly slip into positions of power, particularly in the judiciary, by being passive, lazy, and inattentive. We have to realize how important every election at every level is and work accordingly. We have to be attentive to the immense power big money has on government to promote the viewpoints of the few and keep this from happening.

    Thank you for sending out the word. It all matters.

    Cassie Wilson

  54. We have to wonder what is so threatening about these books that they should be banned…what are they afraid of …the truth…banning books is one of the first steps of nazi control….

  55. People really should read Fahrenheit 451(the Temps books burn) and 1984,this is HAPPENING. Especially here in Florida!!! This needs to STOP! The gop is taking us back to the Handmaiden era.

  56. I was intrigued by the title of Spinning, because I once learned to spin yarn from fleece and I wondered what sort of spinning this was about. Spinning on skates! I plan to check this one out – in both senses of the phrase. As an elder, I have not had much interest in graphic novels, but this one goes on my list.. As a former librarian, I wonder why I have let myself become so limited? Laziness, perhaps?
    Thank you for the update, and for expanding my reading horizons.

  57. The government is controlling us more and more. It’s frightening. The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. I think the love of power brings about plenty of evil as well.

  58. Susan, Thank You!!! Seeing the banned titles sends chills of dread through me! To Kill a Mockingbird!!! The Color Purple!!! And the book banners’ favorite since the 19th century, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn!!!! How often I have said “never in America” – but here it is!!!

  59. It is so distressing to me as a former educator and counselor to see this happening. Parents who don’t want their children to read a certain book should just handle it themselves for THEIR children. It is preposterous to me that these parents are naive enough to believe their children will not discuss these ideas…..they just won’t have access to accurate information!😔💔

  60. As a former school librarian, censorship has always been a concern. I believe books on all subjects should be available, but I did ask my middle school students to get parental permission before I checked out some controversial ones on occasion. It was always granted.

  61. Thank you so much for this. It’s very upsetting to watch this country’s leaps into fascism.

    I live in Eureka, Calif. So far there’s been no book banning here in our libraries or anywhere else. I’m prepared to show up and protest if it ever happens. Heh, I protested the Vietnam war. I can certainly do it again.

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