/The Margin: Book bans: Illinois poised to be first state to punish libraries that remove titles

The Margin: Book bans: Illinois poised to be first state to punish libraries that remove titles

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker is about sign a bill that would block the state’s community and public school libraries from receiving funding if they ban books — the first state in the nation to take such a stance against a wave of book banning in the U.S.

It’s the first time a monetary penalty would be imparted on institutions who go along with the book bans now on the rise in several pockets of the U.S., including in Florida under the leadership of presidential contender, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, on the 2024 White House campaign stump last week, said he would look to make the book bans that took hold in Florida under his leadership, easier to pass in other states with social conservatives in power.

With some exceptions, calls for bans of titles ranging from African-American history to LGBTQ+ memoirs have typically been sought by just a few parents or other community members, yet these minorities often get libraries to respond.

“In Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement when the legislation, House Bill 2789, was introduced earlier this year. “We embrace it and lead with it. Banning books is a devastating attempt to erase our history and the authentic history of many.”

Once enacted, the Illinois law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

Book bans in U.S. public-sector schools increased by 28% in the first half of the 2022-23 academic year over the same period a year earlier, PEN America, a writers’ organization has reported, as it tracks such actions nationwide.

The American Library Association’s Chicago chapter said there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois in 2022, increasing from 41 the previous year. The public at large objected to more than 2,500 books last year across the country, according to the ALA, but objections don’t automatically lead to bans.

The Illinois penalty initiative was started by its Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, also a Democrat, whose office oversees the Illinois State Library and administers several grant programs for public and school libraries.

The bill requires that as a condition of qualifying for those grants, libraries adopt either a written policy prohibiting the practice of banning books or follows the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which includes a statement that “(m)aterials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

“This right-to-read legislation will help remove the pressure that librarians have had to endure from extremist groups like the Proud Boys who have targeted some of our libraries and their staff,” Giannoulias said during a news conference after the Senate vote. “This first-of-its-kind legislation is important because the concept of banning books contradicts the very essence of what our country stands for.”

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In June 2022, the Illinois Community High School District 99 school board came under pressure to remove the young-adult memoir “Gender Queer,” written as an illustrative graphic novel, from its library shelves. According to a Chicago Sun-Times article, pressure for removal came from a group of conservative parents as well as members of the far-right Proud Boys.

According to the American Library Association, “Gender Queer” was the most frequently challenged book in 2022, drawing 151 requests for its removal because of its focus on LGBTQ+ issues and what critics said was explicit sexual content.

Demonstrators who support banning books gathered during a protest outside of the Henry Ford Centennial Library in Dearborn, Mich., in 2022. Protests on both sides of the issue emerged after Dearborn Public Schools temporarily restricted access to seven books following a parent’s complaint about their content.

AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this month, a poem written for President Joe Biden’s inauguration was been placed on a restricted list at a South Florida elementary school after one parent’s complaint. In a Facebook post, poet Amanda Gorman vowed to fight back. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” was challenged by the parent of two students at Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes, along with several books.

Read: Florida school library limits access to Amanda Gorman’s poem for Biden inauguration after parent complaint

Back in Illinois, Senate Republicans argued that the bill would put too much power in the hands of the ALA and that enshrining the group’s Library Bill of Rights into law would force local libraries to enact extreme policies, even beyond book bans.

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One member of the state’s lawmaking body, Republican Sen. Steve McClure, said that prohibiting libraries from banning books for any reason would mean they could not reject the donation of books from the public, including books that are purely hate speech or books offering directions on how to build a bomb, according to coverage of state politics on the Capitol News Illinois site.

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At his news conference, Giannoulias described those arguments as “ludicrous” and said the legislation does not deal with drag shows or dictate to librarians what materials they have to maintain. Separate of, but not completely exclusive from book bans, drag storytelling hours have come under greater scrutiny in some states.

Read: Drag queens fear Republican bills to restrict performances will hurt their livelihoods: ‘There’s nothing inherently sexual about drag’

“We’re not telling you what books to buy or not buy,” Giannoulias said. “What we’re saying is, if a book is in circulation as determined by the libraries and the librarians, that book cannot be banned because a group of individuals don’t like or want that book in their library. That’s what the legislation is all about.”

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