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From Mesquite to Marble Falls: Reporter recounts Llano County Library advisory board controversy

From Mesquite to Marble Falls: Reporter recounts Llano County Library advisory board controversy - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Courtesy Brigid Cooley

Brigid Cooley, communication graduate of Texas A&M University-San Antonio, found herself covering the nationally publicized book ban story as a reporter in rural Texas. 

Cooley, who earned a bachelor’s degree from A&M-San Antonio in December 2020, took a reporting job in early 2021 in the small town of Marble Falls with

Texas is at the forefront of censorship of literature and other books in schools and public libraries.

The cases in Texas come after state Rep. Matt Krause, R-93, issued a list of 850 books he believes need removal from school libraries because they “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”

Cooley, who was editor in chief of The Mesquite in the fall and spring of 2020, covered government and education in Burnet and Llano counties.

With a population of 21,047, Llano County became national news when county Judge Ron Cunningham added to the censorship concerns by dissolving the county’s library advisory board to install new members, many of who didn’t have a librarian background.

The break-up of the library advisory board came after Cunningham shut down the Llano County Library to conduct an audit of their books. Four books were removed. Cooley’s colleague wrote a story for DailyTrib about the removal.

Cunningham’s decision came after resident Bonnie Wallace emailed him about “pornographic filth discovered at the Llano Library.” 

Cooley volunteered to cover the story when news of the library advisory board dismantling reached the DailyTrib. 

“When something is getting gutted, that could mean something else could be going on,” Cooley said. 

To Cooley’s astonishment, a couple of ho-hum library advisory board meetings evolved into a war zone where many residents felt the First Amendment was under assault.

“These meetings were getting a ton of people a ton,” Cooley said.

The tense environment escalated when the board decided to suspend Overdrive, the county’s online reading program, and block any incoming books into their libraries.  

Suzette Baker, former head librarian at the Kingsland Library, spoke out many times against the advisory board’s decision to block incoming books and shut down Overdrive. Subsequently, she was fired for insubordination and failure to follow instructions.

“I don’t know of many people who were glad she was fired,” Cooley said.

Baker’s termination led to a GoFundMe, public outcry and now a potential lawsuit from Baker against her former employer. 

Additionally, Llano County faces a federal lawsuit over the censorship in its libraries.

Due to protests and litigation, the library advisory board decided to close its meetings to the public.

“In Texas, advisory boards don’t fall under the open meetings act,” Cooley said. 

The open meetings act makes it illegal for government decision-makers to meet without the public’s attendance. 

Baker and her advocates are crying foul as the new library advisory board began rewriting their bylaws. 

“Some people saw this as an overstep of government and censorship,” Cooley said.  

The saga has drawn the eyes of The Washington Post, which assigned reporter Annie Gowen to cover the story. Gowen visited Llano County and corresponded with Cooley. Gowen’s report was published on April 1.

The library advisory board’s story is ongoing, and it is unclear which side will prevail. Cooley said she preferred not to share her personal viewpoint on the issue. 

“As a journalist, it is our job to separate ourselves from our opinion and let facts shine through,” she said.

Cooley did concede she is fortunate to take on such a complex story in a small town.

“As an early-career journalist, this story has really pushed me and reinvigorated my passion for journalism,” Cooley said. 

Cooley is saying goodbye to the DailyTrib and taking on a new position at the Williamson County Sun in Georgetown, Texas, this month. 

To read Cooley’s past coverage of the library advisory board, click here.

To read the Washington Post story, click here.

To read about librarians’ reactions to efforts to ban books in Texas, click here.

About the Author

Daniel Chevez
Daniel Chevez is a communications major at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. He received his Associate of Arts from San Antonio College in May of 2020. He works as an account clerk at Alamo Colleges. He enjoys competition and exercising. After graduation, he plans to work in the field of media.

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