Former librarian sues Texas county, alleges she was fired for refusing to remove books

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(NEW YORK) — A former librarian has filed a lawsuit against Llano County, Texas, and local library officials after she says she was fired for refusing to purge certain books from the library’s collection.

“A public library is a foundation of any good society,” Suzette Baker, who had been appointed head librarian of Kingland Library in 2021, said in an interview with ABC News. “It’s like the cornerstone for our society and if that cornerstone were to fall, we would collapse. We would have no basis to form our own independent thoughts.”

She is accusing county officials of violating her First and 14th Amendment rights as well as those of the library’s patrons.

Baker alleges in her lawsuit that she was fired for “insubordination,” “creating a disturbance,” “violation of policies,” “failure to follow instructions,” and “allowing personal opinions to interfere with job duties and procedures” after refusing to remove the books.

Baker said she feels particularly passionate against what she is calling “censorship” because of the oath she said she made while serving in the military to uphold the U.S. Constitution: “That still resonates with me.”

ABC News has reached out to Llano County and library officials for comment on this most recent lawsuit regarding Baker’s termination.

In 2021, community groups began pushing for the removal of books that they declared inappropriate or unnecessary for the library’s collection. In some cases, they likened the books to “pornography” or “grooming,” the lawsuit states.

These books were predominantly written by or about people of color and LGBTQ individuals. They touched on topics such as race, gender, health, and sexual orientation.

“They’re using incredibly stigmatizing and derogatory language and stereotypes, while attempting to censor these books,” said Baker’s attorney Iris Halpern. “The language that they’re using, how they’re collapsing criminality with the content of these books or their authors, I think only further highlights the animus against LGTBQ [sic] people and people of color.”

Titles like How to be an Anti-Racist, They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, and Being Jazz: My Life As A Transgender Teen were impacted by county efforts to remove the books from shelves.

In some cases, books that “depict bodily functions in a humorous manner in cartoon format,” such as My Butt is so Noisy, were criticized by these groups as “obscene” and promoting “‘grooming’ behavior,” according to court documents.

It’s Perfectly Normal, a book about human biology depicted through cartoons, was also removed because critics claimed it encouraged “child grooming,” according to federal judge Robert Pitman.

Some of these book restrictions were inspired by a 2021 list sent by Texas State Representative Matt Krause to the Texas Education Agency and several school district superintendents with more than 800 books that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex,” he said in a letter first reported by the Texas Tribune.

In April 2022, several Llano County residents sued county officials and the library over the book removals.

Seventeen of the removed books were returned to shelves under a court order from Pitman in March 2023 that asserted that the books were protected by the First Amendment.

The county appealed the judge’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit where the case is still pending. At the time of the appeal’s filing, the Llano County Commissioners Court, an elected governing body of the county, called a special meeting. The presiding officer of the Comissioner’s Court, Judge Ron Cunningham, issued a press release defending the Commissioners Court’s actions and decrying the expense the litigation had cost the county.

At the special meeting, officials also considered ceasing operations of the library system.

“Our librarians weed books all the time, and almost every public library must continually weed books that aren’t being checked out to make room for new books given our limited shelf space,” according to the April 2023 press release.

It continued, “The plaintiffs have falsely accused our librarian of weeding these books because of their content, even though our librarian has stated repeatedly under oath that she hasn’t even read the books and weeded them for reasons unrelated to their content or viewpoints.”

Baker also claimed in the lawsuit that some of the books removed from shelves did not meet the standards necessary to be “weeded out” in order to make room for new content.

Baker said these books are vital for people to see themselves in different stories and learn more about the people and world around them.

“One of the lessons I grew up with was you don’t judge anybody unless you walk a mile in their shoes,” said Baker. “How do you walk a mile in their shoes, especially when it’s in a small county? … You can pick up a book at a public library, and you can walk in somebody else’s shoes, and you can learn something outside of your little bubble of community. And that’s what those books are so important for.”

Book bans have been seen across the country in record-breaking numbers: Roughly 1,269 demands were made to censor library books and resources in 2022, according to the American Library Association. The organization says it is the highest number of attempted book bans since it began collecting data over 20 years ago.

The vast majority of book banning attempts were made against literature written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color, according to the ALA.

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