Our View: Nothing good comes from book bans

Herald & Review — May 5, 2023

Among the important pieces of advice we can offer, this is the simplest:

If someone doesn’t want you to read a book, the first thing you should do is make a beeline to your library and demand the opportunity to read it.

“Book banning.” The term itself is terrifying. It screams of groups of people trying to stymie discussion and wanting to erase entire areas of thought from existence. People who are determined to tell you what you can and can’t read and pretend that’s OK.

A bill blocking libraries from receiving state grants if they ban books cleared the Illinois Senate this week, and we can’t wait for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to sign it. House Bill 2789 is an initiative of Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, whose office oversees the Illinois State Library and administers several grant programs for public and school libraries.

Public libraries best cater to the public with open doors and as much varied information as possible, dependent, of course, on the individual library’s policies and finances.

The bill passed the Senate along party lines. Senate Republicans argued the bill would put too much power in the hands of the American Library Association, and that putting the group’s Library Bill of Rights into law would force local libraries to enact extreme policies.

Anyone with the American Library Association on the Bingo card of potential 2023 controversies can now claim their prize.

Opponents also raised scares about books that are purely hate speech or books offering directions on how to build a bomb. Guess what? Both exists in thousands of iterations, and if you can’t find one at your library, you’re probably not looking hard enough.

No law should be viewed as absolute. Exceptions can always be argued. But to argue against a law because someone can imagine the worst outcome does a disservice to society.

That’s what we’re working on, after all. It’s a society presently neatly divided in half and paralyzed with fear about how the other “side” is taking the country to hell on an out-of-control handcart. A significant reason for that is creating consuming bite-size opinions that can be repeated as no one listens. “Abortion.” “Immigration.” “Gun rights.” “Gender identity.”

All of those are hot-button issues on which people are unwilling to compromise. We might as well add “drag shows” to the list, since they have also been raised during the discussion of the bill, as if they’re a recent creation instead of a continuation of a centuries-old tradition.

How can the messenger be blamed for the divisiveness of those discussions? The messenger can not. The best way to expand knowledge about a subject is to do your own research. There’s no expansion of thought (and no questioning the status quo or learning what issues surround that thought) in eliminating information.

Individuals can only understand where their limits are by pushing them. Whether reading or listening to music or watching a play or movie, the only way to understand what you consider “good” is by being exposed to things you think are “not good.” You earn the right to say you don’t like something when you try it and are dissatisfied.

We’ll never argue that less information is desirable in any way. Progress stops when thought is policed.