Amid a growing national push from conservatives to pull certain books off the shelves of libraries and classrooms, Democrats in Illinois have become the first to push through anti-book-ban legislation that would punish libraries for partisan restrictions.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the law Monday, which made its way through the state House and Senate during its spring legislative session.
The legislation, which goes into effect January 2024, revokes state funding from libraries that restrict or ban materials because of “partisan or doctrinal” disapproval.
It requires public libraries receiving state funding to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which calls on libraries to “challenge censorship” and says materials should “not be excluded because of origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”
The legislation was spearheaded by Illinois’ newly elected Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, who told the Chicago Tribune that “radical attacks on our libraries have divided our communities and our librarians have been harassed, threatened and intimidated for simply doing their jobs.”
This law comes amid a rise in book banning, particularly books centered around LGBTQ+ topics or civil rights issues. In public schools, book bans increased by 28% in the first half of the 2022-23 school year, according to a report from PEN America, which called the efforts a “relentless crusade to constrict children’s freedom to read.” The report lists Gender Queer: A Memoir, The 1619 Project and The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel as among those most commonly banned.
More than 2,500. That’s how many books were challenged in attempted book bans in 2022, according to a report from the American Library Association. That represents the highest number since the organization began collecting this data 20 years ago. The organization said that in addition to becoming more prevalent, book bans are becoming larger, challenging multiple books at a time.
Rep. Blaine Wilhour, a southern Illinois Republican who voted against the bill, argued that recent efforts to remove books from shelves have been mischaracterized by Democrats, echoing sentiments shared by conservatives nationwide about “inappropriate” content. “It’s never been about banning books,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s always been about age appropriate, especially when we’re talking public tax dollars on this stuff.”