As bomb threats earlier this week forced nearly half a dozen libraries in Chicago and the suburbs to evacuate, Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias testified at a U.S. Senate Judiciary hearing on the state's first-in-the-nation ban against book bans.
“…What I am concerned with is political attempts to ban books that are driving libraries to close their doors, stifle creativity, make librarians quit their jobs," Giannoulias said during Tuesday's hearing. "And just a few weeks ago, literally have to evacuate due to numerous bomb threats at multiple locations.”
The first-of-its-kind law, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June 12, states that Illinois public libraries that restrict or ban materials because of “partisan or doctrinal” disapproval will be ineligible for state funding as of Jan. 1, 2024, when the new law goes into effect.
Giannoulias, who also serves as the state librarian, faced pushback from several Republican senators during Tuesday's hearing, titled "Book Bans: How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature," some of whom questioned allowing certain books, like To Kill a Mockingbird, in libraries.
"I understand this is good for your politics back home," Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said during a heated exchange with Giannoulias.
Hours before the hearing took place, libraries in Aurora, Addison, Chicago, Evanston and Libertyville all received bomb threats.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported an employee at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St., received an anonymous email saying that there was a bomb inside the building, Chicago police said.
Aurora police evacuated all three of the city’s public libraries and shut down surrounding roads after receiving a similar threat through an “online source” just before 3 p.m., the Sun-Times report said.
"The exact same time that I was in D.C., libraries here were forced to close their doors and be evacuated because of bomb threats, "Giannoulias told NBC Chicago. "And unfortunately, that's symbolic of what we're seeing, literally -- our bill was meant to protect libraries and librarians."
Last month, several other suburban libraries closed after received bomb threats, including Morton Grove, Gurnee, Wilmette, Park Ridge, Oak Park, Vernon Hills and Lincolnshire.
In each case, the buildings were reopened after police searches. "Censorship has never been good for democracy," Giannoulis said. "We also have to remember the mental health issues that kids and teenagers are facing. Books provide a place to go, and use their imagination, and literature provides an avenue for them to understand different worlds."
According to the American Library Association, in 2022, there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois.