Midlanders worry about censorship at libraries following recent efforts to remove books
Staff at Midland County’s Centennial Library were caught off guard on the morning of Aug. 30 when a group descended on the public library to start culling books they deemed obscene or inappropriate.
The approximately 12-person group, led by County Commissioner Dianne Anderson, spent hours combing through the children’s section and young adult section, pulling 29 titles from shelves. According to one person who was there, the day was filled with tension and fear as librarians watched the books pile up.
By the early afternoon, the books were placed on carts and wheeled to the back of the library.
“It's a process that needs to be done if we're going to be serious about removing inappropriate books from the children's section,” said Anderson in an interview with Marfa Public Radio.
She said the books that were removed will be assessed by her and library staff to determine whether they are “age appropriate.” Anderson said the removals are part of her effort to enforce a new county policy that directs staff to move books considered offensive from the children’s section to the adult section at local libraries.
According to the policy — which draws on the Texas Penal Code’s definitions of “obscene” and “harmful material” — a work must be sexually explicit and “lack serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value” to be considered obscene. However, there is currently no evidence that any books at Midland County libraries can be considered obscene under that definition.
The books removed include titles like “Antiracist Baby,” “An ABCs of Equality” and “Flamer” — one of the most requested books to be removed from libraries in 2022, according to the American Library Association.
Anderson is worried about books that she believes are sexually explicit falling into the hands of children, but she’s also concerned about titles that may conflict with her personal politics. When asked why “An ABCs of Equality,” was removed, Anderson explained the book used inappropriate words to represent letters.
“So the letter F, would it be for frog or would it be for fly? No, that’s feminist,” explained Anderson.
“An ABCs of Equality,” according to the book’s description “introduces complicated concepts surrounding social justice to the youngest of children.” Its explanation of feminism reads: “People who identify as women have the same rights as people who identify as men. Every girl has the right to fully express herself without limitations.”
According to Anderson, the book is similar to propaganda dispensed to oppressed groups in authoritarian countries, like China. “It's harmful material,” she said ”Because it's indoctrination, it's like what China is doing to the Christians that they imprison until they are indoctrinated.”
The event is a flashpoint that’s been building up for months in Midland. Both local officials and residents have scrutinized the county’s libraries for having books that touch on topics like sex, the LGBTQ community and race.
Some county officials do not believe Anderson had the right as a county commissioner to lead people into public libraries to remove books from shelves. “She did not have permission or authority from the Midland County Commissioners Court to do such a thing,” said Midland County commissioner Scott Ramsey.
According to Ramsey, a detailed email sent by the county’s attorney to commissioners outlined that they, as individuals, do not have the right to circumvent county policies to carry out their personal whims. Ramsey said worried though if books are continued to be removed from public libraries the county could face a lawsuit similar to the one in Llano County, where officials have been accused of violating patron’s First Amendment rights by removing books.
He’s also concerned that if the recent situation at Centennial Library isn’t taken seriously it may encourage people to circumvent other county policies in the future.
“I couldn't fathom that this was going to happen before it did, so I can't really fathom what might happen in the future. But yes, I think this can embolden certain people to do things that may cause harm,” he said.
Midland County Library Director Debbie Garza declined to be interviewed for this story. Her predecessor John Trischitti, who served as Midland County’s library director for nearly a decade, believes what happened was inappropriate.
“Let me be very clear here, there are some places where Commissioner Anderson and I probably agree on content,” he said. “The big difference here is that it is my choice, as a parent, to say, ‘that's not appropriate for my child.’ She does not get to decide for everybody else, what is or isn't appropriate.”
Trischitti, now the executive director of the Literacy Coalition of the Permian Basin and a member of the advisory board for county libraries, said Anderson’s efforts to limit access to certain materials at public libraries is following a national trend.
According to Trischitti, books shouldn’t be recategorized arbitrarily and there are proven methods that librarians use to make sure books are placed in the proper sections.
“Things are categorized for that reason, there is a process for collection development, and there are rules and policies in place,” he said. “Just to pull [a book] because you disagree with it, is too far for me.”
Anderson told Marfa Public Radio that she hopes that she can continue her efforts to assess and move books out of the children’s and young adult sections at county libraries.
In a press release last week, she defended her actions.
She wrote, “Contrary to any assertions or misconceptions to the contrary, I am not proposing to burn or ban books; rather, I am dedicated to fostering an environment in our County Libraries where diverse ideas and perspectives can flourish.”
The Midland County Commissioners Court will officially address the situation during their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday and reassess the obscenity policy for local libraries.