register here for The 74’s daily newsletter. Donate here to support The 74’s independent journalism.
LLibrarian Suzette Baker said she faced a tough choice last year when her boss asked her to hide a book on critical race theory behind the counter.
“OK, I’ll find out,” Baker recalled telling his boss at the time.
But ultimately, Baker—a librarian at the Kingsland Branch of the Llano County Public Library—decided to ignore the request. And she continued to vocally protest other decisions, like the ban on ordering new books. She spoke up, telling her supervisors that the library was facing a censorship offensive.
In February, the pressure to keep new or donated books off the shelves grew, she said. After waiting weeks for a local library board to approve the books Baker wanted to add to his library, Baker’s boss told him that even donated books couldn’t reach the shelves.
Invest in independent journalism. And help The 74 make an impact.
Help us reach our Spring Campaign membership goal.
On March 9, Baker was fired for insubordination, disturbance of public order and non-compliance with instructions.
“This change is inevitable and you are allowing your personal biases, opinions and preferences to unduly influence your actions and judgment,” his dismissal papers said.
Baker’s experience represents one of many new conflicts facing Texas librarians as book challenges continue to mount. Many feel left out of book ban decisions while facing increased scrutiny from politicians, parents, and county and school district staff. Some have already quit, others are thinking about it.
For librarians working in schools and public libraries, the pressure to keep certain challenged books off the shelves is growing. And some Texas librarians say insults and threats on social media and added pressure from supervisors to remove books are weighing on the profession.
“It’s the job I’ve always wanted all my life,” Baker said. “But then it started to become a place where it was hostile.”
The Llano County Commissioner’s Court and County Judge, who oversaw some library services and suspended purchases of new library books in November, declined to comment, as did Library System Director Amber Milum.
Now that Baker no longer works at the library, she said she worries about the future of the Llano County library system.
“Immobilized by what the future might look like”
The Texas Tribune spoke with librarians from two independent school districts that have been at the center of protests and book bans: Keller, northeast of Fort Worth, and Katy, west of Houston. One from each district approached the Tribune, but both asked that their names not be published because they feared harassment.
In Keller, local Facebook group pages and Twitter accounts included pointed comments about librarians being “heretics” and portrayed them as pedophile “groomers” who order pornographic books. After a particular book challenge failed, a commentator included the phrase “pass the millstones”, a biblical reference to execution by drowning.
“It was heartbreaking for me to see the comments from a community that I have loved and served for 19 years, directed at me as a person,” the Keller ISD librarian said.
Parents and community members challenged over 30 pounds in Keller ISD since October, including the Bible and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. The district has so far removed at least 10 from circulation, and librarians have been unable to order new books since then, the Keller ISD librarian said.
Several successful Keller ISD board candidates ran this month on campaign promises that they would increase parental involvement in education, including taking a closer look at books in the school library. .
“I don’t think there has been a day or an hour in the past 12 months where I haven’t been scared and immobilized by what the future might look like,” said ISD librarian Keller.
The Keller ISD librarian said she wanted to talk to more parents about the books they wanted to ban, but so far only one parent has contacted her.
“That’s been our real-life experience, and we still want to work together,” she said. “Communities need to come together. We can’t keep going back and forth.
“Should I play it safe?
An In Katy ISD librarian said the wave of book bans had left her less confident about what new books to order for her school library.
She considered commissioning a collection of short stories titled “Growing Up Trans: In Our Own Words,” but feared the book would be targeted for deletion.
“Should I play it safe? she says. “Or should I push the envelope and grab a few and see what happens?”
She fears that librarians will soon be able to fill shelves with only books from pre-approved lists.
“Are we going to get there? she says. “Are you just going to take away everything I came into this job wanting to do?”
Just north of Austin, in the independent school district of Round Rock, the pressure on librarians has been intense, says Ami Uselman, director of library services for the district. Some of its librarians are reaching breaking points. One came to her in tears worried about what their church would think about social media accounts calling them groomers. Another quit.
Uselman said parents walk around schools and ask librarians about books. Some demanded records for all books purchased from the library, some 30,000 titles. Surprisingly, there was no formal book challenge, she said in late April.
But Uselman’s work phone still pops up with calls, some from people outside the district, accusing him of storing inappropriate material in libraries. The pressure to remove the books has eased, but she worries about the next event that could spark community anger.
“There’s just a lot of misunderstanding,” Uselman said. For example, some parents confuse graphic novels as sexually explicit when they are more like picture books and comics.
“I feel like it’s gotten better,” Uselman said. “The problem is just when you think it’s better, something else pops up.”
Disclosure: Facebook financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune‘journalism. Find a suit list here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Grandstand at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/17/librarians-texas-book-bans/.
Subscribe to The 74’s newsletter
Submit a letter to the editor