Texas librarian's big stand against book bans

In Llano County, a local librarian fought back against censorship, prompting a federal court fight and national recognition but losing the job of her dreams.

click to enlarge Suzette Baker speaks at the Authors Guild Foundation’s 32nd Annual Gala. - Courtesy Photo / Author's Guild Foundation (Photo by Beowulf Sheehan)
Courtesy Photo / Author's Guild Foundation (Photo by Beowulf Sheehan)
Suzette Baker speaks at the Authors Guild Foundation’s 32nd Annual Gala.
This article was originally published by the Texas Observer, a nonprofit investigative news outlet. Sign up for their weekly newsletter, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Suzette Baker, from unincorporated Kingsland, was feted recently by the Authors Guild in New York City as a “Champion of Writers” — the first-ever recipient of a national award established to honor librarians who fight book bans.

In 2022, ​​she was fired from her job as a Llano County librarian after resisting orders to ban books and protesting against censorship. In response to Baker’s story, a local mom named Leila Leah Green and other library patrons filed a federal lawsuit, supported by the Author’s Guild. In 2023, they won a court order that forced county officials to restore eight of the 17 titles that had been removed from library shelves.

“Baker’s brave defense of her community’s right to read is a testament to the vital role librarians play in upholding free speech and creative expression in the face of censorship,” said Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, the nation’s oldest and largest writers organization.

Baker continues to fight for freedom of expression and is pursuing her own wrongful termination lawsuit against the Llano County officials. Still, in some ways, Baker, a mother of five and grandmother of two, would rather still be working in the Kingsland Branch Library, assembling quirky displays, recommending books, and helping adults and kids access the internet. Being a small-town librarian was her dream job. The Observer spoke to her about books and censorship.

TO: The lawsuit you filed in 2024 tells how you got fired. It started with something so simple: putting up a display in your branch library. Did you know at the time the display could get you in trouble?

No, that’s the funny part! So we had a marquee, and I was always putting up funny little signs. That was just a constant thing. And I put little quirky things on the billboard outside, and it brought people into the library. … And so after the Tennessee burning of the Harry Potter books by the minister in 2022 [which was live-streamed], I decided to put a sign on the marquee, which said: “We put the Lit in literature,” a pun. And then, on the inside, “Check out our lit books” or something like that next to a display of the most commonly challenged books.

Some of the books were ones that you’d been ordered to remove from the collection right?

The books included some on a list that Bonnie Wallace [a member of the Llano County library advisory board] had sent us. I put that all onto the display because if people are telling you that you shouldn’t read this, the first thing you think of should be: “Well, why not? What is their motivation behind this? And is it true?” And everything on the list that [Wallace] sent me as quote-unquote “pornographic” was not pornographic in the least bit. It just isn’t. 

So I put it on there for people to see, and I had sent a screenshot to Amber Millum, who was the [Llano County system] library director and she sent me a text back: “Hahahaha awesome.”

And then the next day, Amber Millum called me up. She said, “You’ve got to take it down.”

So obviously someone had called her in between?

Oh, yeah. Somebody yanked her chain and made her do it.

So I know that earlier this year you filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Llano County, saying you were fired for fighting censorship. The county claims you were fired for insubordination. Did you refuse to take down the display?

I did not refuse to take that one down. All I did was change the title … to something like “Smoking hot books” or something. And I had a picture on it of Joseph Goebbels [Hitler’s propaganda minister] burning books in Berlin.

I altered what I called the display, but I didn’t take the books off it.

It was on a red shelf that we put all these displays on. Easter books at Easter time and patriotic books for 4th of July, Memorial Day. It went through the seasons. Romances are up there for Valentine’s Day and mysteries maybe in the summertime. … So it, you know, it could pivot. So it was a continuously revolving display.

Did you put the Llano County proposed list of banned books on that display?

I didn’t have the list up there. The list was behind the desk. I had just taken books off that list and put them up there. 

A lot of the so-called insubordination was things like, my boss sent us the [book ban] list, and I sent her back a link to the American Library Association ‘s Office of Intellectual Freedom [with information] on what censorship is and how to fight it. 

What does getting this award mean to you? I mean, this is the Authors Guild and you’re being feted at a gala in New York City. It’s a big deal!

It’s beyond anything that I can imagine. But it’s a double-edged sword. You know, this is amazing and phenomenal. And it’s something that I would never have even considered happening in my lifetime. But it happened because of a bad thing that happened to me. So you know it’s kind of good and bad.

I know that a lot of the Texas librarians have really tried hard to fight against censorship, but I believe you’re the only one who has been fired over it, right?

As of right now, I’m the only one that’s been fired over it, but I’m kind of the litmus test for this group. How far they can push their local government. So it’s important that we fight back as hard as we can. … If they get away with this, then they’re just going to clean house in libraries in Texas.

Have you gotten recognition from your fellow librarians?

Oh, yes, after this happened, we were supposed to go to the Texas Library Association conference as a library group, and they pulled the plug on that for us. And so I decided that after I got fired, that I’m going to go anyway. So I went to the TLA not as a librarian, but just as a person. And when I walked into a room they all knew who I was, which still to this day, it’s just overwhelming, the amount of support that I’ve got from those people, my fellow librarians, it was just amazing.

I read some sad news about your own library in a recent Austin American-Statesman story. Kingsland is one of only three county branch libraries and its hours have gone down and they have not replaced you. Is that still the case?

Yes, it is, unfortunately. They have cut out two of the children’s programs. It’s falling behind. [The Llano County library] lost its accreditation. It’s on probation … so you can’t go in the library anymore and order a book from another library. It’s just. It’s sad. 

It’s not open on weekends and it’s not open past 5:30. So anybody who has a job can’t go. … I mean, they can sit outside in 100-plus degree weather and get on the free Wifi, but that’s it.

You told me you’re working 45-50 hours a week at a hardware store now to pay the bills. And you’re still taking care of your adult disabled son. Is working at another library just not a possibility?

There’s only the Llano County public library.  And then there’s the Burnet public library, which is in the county next door. And they’re not going to hire me. … I don’t wanna leave here. But [I] might end up having to, because I’m not going to find a decent job here. But I’m trying to fight it out as long as I can.

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