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books

Texas County Considers Closing Its Libraries after Federal Judge Orders Banned Books Returned to Shelves

A federal judge ordered a rural Texas county to return 12 banned books back to library shelves, and now the county is considering closing its libraries altogether.

The list of banned books included “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson, “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings.

Seven local residents sued county officials for removing the books, citing their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Federal Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Llano County Library System had to reinstate the books into circulation at its three library branches.

A meeting agenda for the Commissioners Court of Llano County shows plans for a discussion to “continue or cease operations of the current physical Llano County library system pending further guidance from the Federal Courts.” The meeting is set for Thursday.

The agenda also lists discussions “regarding the continued employment and/or status of the Llano County Library System employees and the feasibility of the use of the library premises by the public.”

Leila Green Little, one of the residents suing the county, emailed supporters to attend the meeting and voice their concerns.

“We may not get another opportunity to save our library system and, more importantly, the public servants who work there.”

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According to the lawsuit, in 2021, county officials allegedly removed library board members and replaced them with new members who would review the content of all library books. Several books were removed from libraries, and access to an e-book service was revoked shortly after.

In his decision, Judge Pitman stated, “The First Amendment prohibits the removal of books from libraries based on either viewpoint or content discrimination” and gave the library system 24 hours to return the books to their shelves.

In a statement to CNN, Ellen Leonida, the attorney representing the seven residents, underscored the extreme measure the county was considering.

“It appears that the defendants would rather shut down the Library System entirely — depriving thousands of Llano County residents of access to books, learning resources, and meeting space — than make the banned books available to residents who want to read them.”

There is a growing movement for the censorship of books in grade schools, universities and public libraries. According to CNN, books that tell the stories of Black and LGBTQ people or by authors in those communities were among the ten most challenged titles in 2021. The trend continued the following year.

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The American Library Association reported that, in the two decades since it began tracking book censorship, the number of attempts to ban books had reached an all-time high in 2022 at 1,269 total demands.

“The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021. A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021. Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color. Of the reported book challenges, 58% targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries.”

In a press release, Deborah Caldwelll-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, stated, “Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media.”

“Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color. Each attempt to ban a book by one of these groups represents a direct attack on every person’s constitutionally protected right to freely choose what books to read and what ideas to explore. The choice of what to read must be left to the reader or, in the case of children, to parents. That choice does not belong to self-appointed book police.”

books

School Book Bans Are Rising at an Unprecedented Rate

According to a report by PEN America, 50 conservative advocacy groups moved to ban more than 1648 books in 32 states within the last school year. The report speaks to a growing push for censorship in public schools nationwide.

Streaming Services

The 5 Top Free Movie Streaming Services

There’s no question that streaming video technology has fundamentally changed the world of entertainment, as physical entertainment media has all but disappeared in favor of on-demand content delivered over the Internet in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. Subscriptions for these services can add up, however, particularly during a time when content is made exclusive to competing services like Hulu, Amazon Prime, and now Disney Plus, requiring pop culture aficionados to subscribe to multiple platforms to keep up with the most-talked-about stories of the moment. That being said, a tremendous amount of content can now also be found on free, legal, ad-supported services which provide valuable alternatives for those who don’t mind ads but want more out of their television-watching experience. While these platforms won’t host the most recent, blockbuster productions, they often include classics from the history of cinema, making them a valuable resource for fans of the storytelling medium.

Plex, for instance, has recently expanded its business to include free access to stream a wide selection of content. While Plex has long been well-known as a platform for streaming media hosted on one’s desktop computer or server to any number of other devices, the service now also grants access to a wide variety of classics such as Rain Man and The Terminator. Considering the fact that accessing these critically-acclaimed titles from the 20th century requires only that users sign up for an account, taking advantage of Plex can enable hours of entertainment without spending a dime.

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Another service, Crackle, offers a similarly impressive collection of titles and doesn’t even require users to make an account, though the option is available for those who wish to sync their watching history across multiple devices. In addition to classic titles, Crackle includes some recent movies as well, such as Captain Phillips and Whiplash as well as several popular TV shows. As the service is broadly compatible with a wide range of devices, requiring little more than a modern web browser to function, it’s likely worth checking out.

IMdB TV, a service owned by Amazon and previously called FreeDrive, makes for another worthy Netflix alternative. The platform gives access to a number of titles that may be difficult to find elsewhere, particularly for free, including David Fincher’s excellent The Social Network and classics like The Shining and Groundhog day. However, the service only works on Windows and Fire TV devices and requires users to create an IMdB account.

Though its library of content is not as impressive as others on this list, Tubi offers a polished and streamlined interface as well as access to thousands of movies and TV shows, which include critically-acclaimed selections like Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Nightcrawler. Similarly, the Walmart-owned Vudu lets users stream a selection of titles, but also gives users the option of renting or buying films from the service directly for a small fee. While the platform’s selection of ad-supported content is understandably less than stellar, the option to rent or buy recent hits like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood makes Vudu an attractive option, particularly because the first rental on Vudu is only 99 cents.

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Lastly, Hoopla is a service that, in coordination with your local library, allows you to digitally “borrow” films as well as other media like music and eBooks using your library card. There are some obvious drawbacks to this service; not everyone has a library card, and not every public library works with Hoopla to enable access to content. That being said, Hoopla is the only service on this list not to serve ads, as the business is funded by library systems. Also, its selection of content is unique relative to other platforms, particularly when it comes to audiobooks and eBooks, which may in fact be the most valuable aspect of the service. Public libraries are an under-utilized free knowledge resource, but with services like Hoopla that enable easy and free access to library materials, that could soon change.

The variety of streaming media services, both free and paid, can be overwhelming, especially because navigating the enormous selection of (mostly mediocre) titles available on each platform can be tiring. That being said, free, legal access to media of all sorts via the Internet has never been greater, and many hidden gems await those who are willing to navigate various services and libraries.