Illinois has become the first state in the nation to introduce legislation that would withhold state funding from any public or school library that removes controversial books from their shelves.
Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias announced the proposed legislation on Wednesday, which would make libraries ineligible for state-funded grants if they remove books because of “partisan or personal disapproval” or fail to issue a statement against banning books.
Giannoulias says the Illinois Library System Act “comes after extremist groups — including the far-right nationalist group, the Proud Boys — have targeted Illinois libraries, divided communities and harassed librarians across the country, even though the books are not required reading for anyone.”
According to a 2022 report, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom said it received complaints over 1,600 books at public schools and libraries in 2021, which was nearly double the number from 2020, and the highest in 20 years.
Last April the Georgia legislature passed a bill that would remove books seen as “harmful to minors.”
“Nationally, the attempt to ban books have been rising, including right here in Illinois,” Giannoulias said. “Books that include subject matters like the COVID-19 pandemic, acclaimed authors like Toni Morrison, best-selling novels like ‘The Kite Runner,’ and classics like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ have been challenged right here in the Land of Lincoln.”
The two most challenged books on the ALA’s top 10 list have been in the news often: Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir about sexual identity, “Gender Queer,” and Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” a coming-of-age novel narrated by a young gay man.
Last year, the Harlem School District in Machesney Park banned “Gender Queer,” saying the graphic novel contains graphic illustrations of sexual acts, which some said are not appropriate for the age group, adding that if a student chooses to, they can get the book at the public library.
Others on the ALA list, virtually all cited for LGBTQ or racial themes, include Angie Thomas’ bestselling “The Hate U Give,” centered on a police shooting of a Black teen; George Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Juno Dawson’s “This Book Is Gay” and Susan Kuklin’s “Beyond Magenta.” Two older works that have been on the list before also appear: Sherman Alexie’s autobiographical novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s debut novel “The Bluest Eye.”
“This scourge of censorship has a chilling effect on our democracy. These efforts have nothing to do with books. Instead, they are about ideas that certain individuals disagree with and believe no one should think, or be allowed to think,” Giannoulias said.
While the Illinois legislation appears poised at protecting books that deal with controversial issues such as sex and race, conservative groups point to stores, such as Amazon, removing books for sale that offer countering viewpoints, or changing the written text of classic books even before they appear on shelves.
Online retailer Amazon has received criticism for removing books such as “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement,” which highlights contradictions between “the media’s sunny depiction [of gender transition] and the often sad realities of gender-identity struggles.” Amazon said the book, which had been on sale for three years, fell under a broad guideline that restricts “content that we determine is hate speech, promotes the abuse or sexual exploitation of children, contains pornography, glorifies rape or pedophilia, advocates terrorism, or other material we deem inappropriate or offensive.”
Republican senators claimed Amazon was “openly signaling to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platforms.”
Last week, Ian Fleming Publications announced it is rewriting classic James Bond novels after a review by “sensitivity readers,” and Roald Dahl books, such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” are being released in new versions that omit “offensive language,” such as describing one character as fat.
In 2021, six children’s books by famed children’s author Dr. Seuss were removed from publication due to “racist and insensitive imagery“.
Numerous other popular children’s series have been criticized in recent years for alleged racism.
In the 2007 book, “Should We Burn Babar?,” the author and educator Herbert R. Kohl contended that the “Babar the Elephant” books were celebrations of colonialism because of how the title character leaves the jungle and later returns to “civilize” his fellow animals.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s portrayals of Native Americans in her “Little House On the Prairie” novels have been faulted so often that the American Library Association removed her name in 2018 from a lifetime achievement award it gives out each year.
Currently, Illinois law does not contain language related to book banning or eligibility for state grants that restrict access. Last fiscal year, the Secretary of State’s office awarded 1,631 grants to Illinois libraries totaling more than $62 million. Of those, 97 percent of the grants were awarded to public and school libraries, with public libraries receiving 877 grants and school libraries securing 712 grants.