Giannoulias vows to protect free speech, access to books

The Telegraph – March 9, 2023

Amid coordinated efforts throughout the nation to ban books from library shelves, Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias has drafted legislation designed to support public and school libraries and librarians dealing with censorship of books and resources in Illinois.

The legislation comes after extremist groups have targeted Illinois libraries, divided communities and harassed librarians across the country. Giannoulias, who serves as the State’s Librarian, reiterated his support for Illinois librarians.

“This is an alarming phenomenon that’s occurring throughout the nation, including Illinois, which is designed to polarize and disrupt our communities,” Giannoulias said. “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.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has announced his support for Giannoulias’ legislation.

“In Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth; we embrace it and lead with it,” said Pritzker. “Banning books is a devastating attempt to erase our history and the authentic stories of many. Students across this state deserve to see themselves reflected in the pages of stories that teach and entertain. I’m proud to support House Bill 2789 and ensure that Illinois’ libraries remain sources of knowledge, creativity, and fact.”

Under House Bill 2789 sponsored by state Reps. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Downers Grove, and Carol Ammons, D-Champaign, and state Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Elk Grove Village, Illinois libraries would only be eligible for state funded grants issued by the Secretary of State’s office if they:

  1. Demonstrate that they adhere to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights indicating reading materials should not be removed or restricted because of partisan or personal disapproval; or
  2. Issue a statement complying with the policies of the State Library or one prohibiting the practice of banning books or resources.

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.

According to the Chicago-based American Library Association, there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois in 2022, up from 41 the previous year.

“Public libraries are committed to serve their communities with books and resources, programming, and other services,” said Cynthia Robinson, Executive Director of the Illinois Library Association. “Serving the community means serving everyone in the community. Not every book is for everyone, and library staff are always ready to help library users find the right book for themselves or their children.

"Parents are encouraged to make decisions for their own families, but not for other families," she said. "Banning books takes crucial resources away from those who need them.”

“Libraries are institutions that should be available to everyone to explore and discover the world around them,” said Christine Gerrish, Executive Director of the Glen Carbon Library. “They depend on diverse collections and the ability of their patrons to browse them without fear of being judged.

"One of the main goals of banning books is to silence the voices of marginalized people," she said. "The act of banning books threatens all library services which is why I support House Bill 2789.”

Ashley Stewart, director of the Caseyville Public Library, said it is her responsibility "to meet the needs of all of the members and taxpayers of the community."

"Censorship is not a partisan issue," she said. "It is an organized effort by a very small percentage of our population that are specifically targeting libraries.

"My library board and staff received hateful messages and threats for an event held during PRIDE month," she said. "Can you imagine if zoo or museum staff were threatened over the types of animals held or works of art displayed at their respective institutions? That is why I fully support the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which provides the foundation for House Bill 2789, a noble goal that seeks to prevent censorship from plaguing our libraries and patrons."