Illinois becomes first state to ‘ban’ book bans

Bloomberg — June 12, 2023

A new law lets the state withhold funds from libraries that remove books or don’t follow American Library Association guidelines.

Illinois’ governor signed a law on Monday that lets the state block library book restrictions, setting a nationwide precedent as schools and librarians across the country face a surge in book bans.

The legislation allows Illinois to withhold state funding from libraries that do not follow American Library Association guidelines or that ban books. The ALA’s “Bill of Rights” states that reading materials “should not be removed or restricted because of partisan or personal disapproval.”

“Regimes ban books, not democracies,” said Governor JB Pritzker at a press conference on Monday. He added that Illinois refuses “to let a vitriolic strain of white nationalism” determine “whose stories get told.”

Attempted book bans have reached record levels in the US. In 2022, the ALA counted more than 2,500 different books that were challenged, compared to 1,858 in 2021 and 566 in 2019.

“Many librarians have been forced to quit after being harassed and subjected to intimidation,” said Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, who spearheaded the bill. “Others have been fired for refusing to remove books from circulation. In Illinois, we are saying ‘enough!’”

In Illinois, there were 67 attempts to ban books last year, up from 41 in 2021, said Chicago-based ALA. Last fiscal year, the state gave more than $62 million in grants to libraries. Of those, 97% of grants were for public and school libraries.

Across the US, new state laws also sought to censor ideas and materials in public schools as part of a book banning movement started in 2021 by local citizens and advocacy groups, according to PEN America, the free speech advocacy group.

Giannoulias introduced the state’s bill after extremist groups — including far-right nationalist organization the Proud Boys — “targeted Illinois libraries, divided communities and harassed librarians, despite that the books are not required reading,” according to a statement from Giannoulias, who also serves as State Librarian. The law will take effect on January 1, 2024.