‘First of its kind’ Illinois law will penalize libraries that ban books

by Lucas Garcia
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book bans

Illinois has passed a groundbreaking law that aims to penalize libraries that impose bans on books. Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law on Monday, making Illinois the first state in the country to outlaw such restrictions.

Under the new law, Illinois public libraries that prohibit or restrict certain materials due to partisan or doctrinal disapproval will lose their eligibility for state funding starting from January 1, 2024, when the law goes into effect.

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, who is also the state librarian and a key proponent of the legislation, clarified that the intention is not to mandate every book’s presence in all libraries. Instead, the law emphasizes trust in the experience and expertise of librarians to determine which books should be made available to the public.

This legislation comes at a time when several states in the U.S. are attempting to remove books, particularly those with LGBTQ+ themes or authored by individuals of color, from schools and libraries. In fact, the American Library Association reported that book censorship attempts in schools and public libraries hit a two-decade high in 2022, surpassing the previous record in 2021.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation, expressed support for the Illinois law, stating that it addresses concerns about censorship and a culture of suspicion.

To qualify for state funds, Illinois public libraries must adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which asserts that materials should not be excluded based on the background, origin, or viewpoints of their creators, or they must subscribe to a similar commitment.

The bill was sponsored in the Illinois House of Representatives by Downers Grove Democrat Rep. Anne Stava-Murray after a school board in her district faced pressure to ban specific content from school libraries. Stava-Murray emphasized the importance of individual guidance for children and denounced using local government to enforce uniform standards for the entire community based on bigotry or as a substitute for involved parenting.

Despite Giannoulias’ statement that the issue should not be divided along partisan lines, lawmakers’ support for the bill was split, with Republicans opposing it. House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, a Republican, voiced support for local control but emphasized that book content should be considered when deciding their placement on library shelves.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about book bans

What does the new Illinois law regarding book bans entail?

The new Illinois law prohibits public libraries from imposing bans or restrictions on books based on partisan or doctrinal disapproval. Libraries that violate this law will become ineligible for state funding starting from January 1, 2024.

How does this law differ from previous legislation?

The Illinois law is the first of its kind in the nation to outlaw book bans in public libraries. It aims to trust the expertise of librarians in selecting materials rather than imposing uniform standards on the entire community.

Why was this law enacted?

The law was enacted in response to increasing attempts to censor books, particularly those addressing LGBTQ+ themes or authored by people of color. It aims to protect intellectual freedom and combat censorship in libraries and schools.

What must Illinois public libraries do to qualify for state funds?

To be eligible for state funds, Illinois public libraries must adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights or subscribe to a similar pledge. This ensures that materials are not excluded based on the background, origin, or viewpoints of their creators.

Were there any opposing views on the legislation?

Yes, lawmakers’ approval of the bill was divided along party lines, with Republicans generally opposing it. Some voiced support for local control but emphasized considering book content when determining their placement on library shelves.

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