SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A bill that would block libraries from receiving state grants if they ban books cleared the Illinois Senate Wednesday and will soon be sent to Gov. JB Pritzker, who is expected 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.
It would require that as a condition of qualifying for those grants, libraries adopt either a written policy prohibiting the practice of banning books or the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights, which includes a statement that "(m)aterials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval."
SEE ALSO | School library book bans are seen as targeting LGBTQ+ content
"This right-to-read legislation will help remove the pressure that librarians have had to endure from extremist groups like the Proud Boys who have targeted some of our libraries and their staff," Giannoulias said during a news conference after the Senate vote. "This first-of-its-kind legislation is important because the concept of banning books contradicts the very essence of what our country stands for."
In June 2022, the Community High School District 99 school board came under pressure to remove the book "Gender Queer" from its library shelves. According to a Chicago Sun-Times article, that pressure came from a group of conservative parents as well as members of the far-right Proud Boys. The book, written and illustrated as a graphic novel, is a memoir about a nonbinary person grappling with issues of gender identity and sexuality as a teenager and young adult.
According to the American Library Association, "Gender Queer" was the most frequently challenged book in 2022, drawing 151 requests for its removal because of its focus on LGBTQ issues and allegedly explicit sexual content. All told in 2022, the ALA said it documented 1,269 demands for books and other resources to be removed from libraries, the largest number of attempted book bans since the organization began collecting data more than 20 years ago.
Senate Republicans, however, argued that the bill would put too much power in the hands of the ALA and that putting the group's Library Bill of Rights into law would force local libraries to enact extreme policies.
For example, Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, cited a provision that said libraries that also provide exhibit spaces and meeting rooms to the public "should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use."
"I think what I heard is, regarding the Bill of Rights here, that if a library does not make its public space available for anyone who wants to use it, including, say, a drag show, because of what the local officials of that library feel is not appropriate for the library, that library can now potentially lose their state funding," she said.
Likewise, Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, said that prohibiting libraries from banning books for any reason would mean they could not reject the donation of books from the public, including books that are purely hate speech or books offering directions on how to build a bomb.
"Anybody who thinks that makes sense, vote yes," he said. "But if you have common sense, and if you want to stick up for our local communities to keep everyone safe, at the very least, this is an easy no vote."
At his news conference, Giannoulias described those arguments as "ludicrous" and said the legislation does not deal with drag shows or dictate to librarians what materials they have to maintain.
"We're not telling you what books to buy or not buy," he said. "What we're saying is, if a book is in circulation as determined by the libraries and the librarians, that book cannot be banned because a group of individuals don't like or want that book in their library. That's what the legislation is all about."
Summer Griffith, director of Springfield's public library, also spoke at the news conference and said that libraries have established policies governing what materials they put in their collections.
"We do not just get them because somebody dropped off a bunch of books. That's not how we get books," she said. "Our collection policy is, in fact, on our website so everyone can go look. It is confined by our budget. It's confined by what is necessary and good for our community."
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.