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Illinois: the First State to Ban Book Bans

About two months ago, on June 12, 2023, Illinois became the first state in the country to ban book bans. The bill (HB2789), which will come into effect on January 1, 2024, was signed by Governor Pritzker in the Harold Washington Library. Gathered with him were the Illinois Librarian and Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, Lieutenant Governor Julia Startton, and many other Illinois politicians. The purpose of HB2789 is to protect books from banning efforts in Illinois, where many books had been banned by their allegedly inappropriate content of sexuality, racism, dysfunctional families, etc. Books such as The Red Dress and 1919 are examples of books that were banned but now are protected by the bill. The first includes a character finding her sexuality while the second addresses racial discrimination experienced by two African Americans after coming back from a war. The bill will also block state grant fundings to local libraries that do not follow the American Library Assocaiation’s Library Bill of Rights by allowing books to be banned due to partisan or personal disapproval. Therefore, HB2789 was created so that public libraries in Illinois would adopt their own “Library Bill of Rights” which openly states that “materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
“What this law does, is it says, let’s trust our experience and education of our librarians to decide what books should be in circulation,” said Alexi Giannoulias, the State Librarian of Illinois, who had led the bill to its signing in his first six months as Secretary of State. Giannoulias also stated that by banning book bans, “Libraries and librarians protect our First Amendment right to free speech and our constitutional right to read.” He further said that he was especially shocked after seeing the increasing number of books that were being banned across the country. Indeed, just in 2022, there were 1,269 attempts to censor library books in the whole country, reaching the greatest number of attempts to ban books that the country has seen. In Illinois, it was reported that there were 67 attempts to ban books in local and public libraries.
While HB2789 marks a new chapter for many libraries, it also impacts many librarians across the state of Illinois. Many librarians working in northern Illinois libraries such as Park Ridge, Morton Grove, Wilmette, Oak Park, and Warren-Newport Public libraries, faced bomb threats and harassment for having certain books in the library. A statement released by the The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) reflects how threats of violence have become a growing problem for librarians in Illinois: “We should all be clear. The recent threats result from ideologically driven attacks on libraries, attacks from a small handful of loud voices who seek to ban books and displays that reflect and elevate the experiences and views of LGBTQ+ people, people of color and other voices too often ignored in our society. The language and misinformation driving these book bans sadly lead some to believe that threats of violence are an appropriate response to children’s books they do not like.”
Many libraries in Illinois including Illinois Heartland Library System already made clear on their websites that this legislation will help them “stand firm in the face of pressure” and that the law will benefit the libraries. This shows that HB2789 not only gives more reading freedom to all citizens in Illinois to read any book they wish to read, but it is also vital in protecting the safety of Illinois librarians. Giannoulias, carrying out his duty as State Librarian, stated that “I wholeheartedly support our libraries, which are committed to serving our communities as safe, welcoming havens to learn and access ideas and especially our librarians who are dedicated public servants devoted to treating people with dignity and respect.”
On September 12, 2023, Secretary Giannoulias was one of the five witnesses to testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Book Bans; Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature.” It is likely that the subject of book banning and banning book bans will continue to be one of the widely discussed issues in many communities across the country.


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About the Contributor
Anda Wattanakit, News Writer
Anda Wattanakit is a freshman. She loves to read, especially 19th-20th century novels. When she isn't on her couch reading, she is playing with her dog, Mochi, who has a special talent of sleeping all day.

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