Illinois’s new Secretary of State, Alexi Giannoulias, is taking a stand against censors. He has recently drafted legislation designed to protect the freedom of libraries to acquire materials in Illinois, reiterating his staunch support for libraries and for Illinoisans’ freedom to read.
The proposed legislation, House Bill 2789 would require each Illinois library that receives State grants to establish an anti-censorship policy. Specifically, it says that those libraries will only be eligible for State grants if they either "adopt the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights" or "develop a written statement prohibiting the practice of banning books or other materials within the library or library system." Notice that the bill requires libraries to have an anti-censorship policy or statement; it would not require any other action. Illinois Heartland Library System believes this legislation would help members stand firm in the face of pressure without affecting librarians’ authority to select and weed the library’s collection. In short, we think the law would benefit our libraries. If approved, HB 2789 will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Many of our member libraries would be affected by this legislation, specifically all libraries that receive State grants and do not already have such a statement in their collection reconsideration policy. If that's you, you’ll need to draft one. We can help. As your library support partner, we are watching this bill closely with your needs in mind. We will provide timely updates and ample support as developments arise. We’re also in the beginning stages of developing an anti-censorship policy-writing resource guide and looking into hosting a workshop. For now, we have compiled some answers to frequently asked questions below. If your question isn’t here, or if you need more specific assistance, we invite you to contact one of our Membership staff members, Anna Yackle (public libraries), Leah Gregory (school libraries), and Ellen Popit (all libraries), at 618.656.3216.
Secretary Giannoulias has been working hard to address critical issues in librarianship in Illinois. More information is available in the Secretary of State Secretary of State Transition Report, released in January 2023, and in a Chicago Tribune article published March 8, 2023.
As of March 23, 2023, HB 2789 has passed the House. The bill now goes to the Illinois Senate for a committee reading.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What does HB 2789 mean for my library?
The available text of HB 2789 currently applies to all libraries that receive State grants. The Library Systems Act defines "State grants" in (75 ILCS 10/8) (from Ch. 81, par. 118) Sec. 8. State grants. This update came with House Committee Amendment No. 1.
If the bill passes, it will go into effect Jan. 1, 2024, thus affecting funding cycles for FY2025.
In the meantime, libraries should review their collection development policies. Even if the bill doesn’t pass, IHLS highly recommends addressing potential materials challenges in light of the increased attempts to ban books in Illinois.
- What kind of support can I expect from IHLS?
If HB 2789 passes, IHLS members can count on us for:
- Clear guidance on how to comply
- Templates, samples, and tips for drafting book-challenge policies
- Individual support from our Membership Coordinators
- Related programming at IHLS events, such as Member Day and Members Matter
We are already developing resources and programming tailored to HB 2789 and the development of challenge policies in general. In the meantime, members can find relevant materials in our Book Challenges resource guide. Additionally, the Illinois Secretary of State Administrative Ready Reference also has a sample library policy available for review.
As you work on your policy, we recommend you consult the ALA Guidelines for Library Policies. The ALA stands firmly against book censorship—even for children. Restricted access violates patrons’ rights to intellectual freedom and their First Amendment rights.
- Isn’t this legislation just penalizing the libraries rather than the censors?
There isn’t really a way to penalize censors, and this law should be easy for libraries to follow! Many libraries already comply with the stated minimums. They adopt the ALA standard and base their collections development policy on it—even some of our smallest and most rural libraries. If you don’t have a policy like this in place, we can help! Contact one of our membership professionals to learn more.
We also want to stress that the intent of the law is to support libraries as they come up against the many groups supporting censorship, defunding libraries, and criminalizing librarians’ providing access to materials. So, rather than act as an actual penalty, HB 2789 would help libraries stand up to censors. If the bill passes, it will give you firm legal grounds to reject any attempt to ban books.
- Why is it so important that my library write this policy?
It’s a long-held best practice for libraries to develop such policies. See, for example, the following recommendation from the American Library Association:
"The Supreme Court has held that the Constitution requires a procedure designed to critically examine all challenged expression before it can be suppressed. Therefore, libraries should develop a procedure by which the governing body examines concerns and challenges about library resources. This procedure should be open, transparent, and conform to all applicable open meeting and public records laws. Challenged resources should remain in the collection, and access to the resources remain unrestricted during the review process. Resources that meet the criteria for selection and inclusion within the collection as outlined in the institution’s collections policy should not be removed. Procedures to review challenges to library resources should not be used to suppress constitutionally protected expression." (Challenged Resources: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.)
Even if your library has gotten by without an anti-censorship policy or collection development policy, the recent rise in book bans means you need one now. According to American Library Association (ALA), there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois in 2022, up from 41 attempts the previous year. Nationally, these challenges are rising on an unprecedented scale, with more attempts to ban books since ALA began tracking 20 years ago.
Additionally, a policy on book bans will help you protect your entire community’s freedom to read. Many of these challenges come not from individuals within the community but from extremist groups. Even when community members are the initial impetus, these crusades gain traction through organizations like the Proud Boys and Moms for Liberty, seeking to suppress many marginalized communities’ voices.
- Won't an anti-censorship policy just invite trouble from the community?
Not at all! Despite the uptick in materials challenges, over 90% of voters oppose banning classic novels and children’s books. That means that your patrons and your community most likely oppose these bans, as well.
- Would this legislation take away local control from library boards?
Illinois is a state that allows libraries a high degree of local control, and HB 2789 will not take that away. In general, library boards will still hold the same authority that they are given following their election or appointment. They will continue to write their libraries’ policies collection development policies and reconsideration policies. The only change will be for boards at libraries who don’t already have a reconsideration policy that reflects established the best practices outlined in the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. Those boards will need to include in their reconsideration policies a statement indicating that no materials will “be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval” (The Library Bill of Rights). As library boards are meant to be nonpartisan, this statement should merely reflect their current practices.
Even in Illinois, though, library boards are already required to follow several laws: our state has a whole book on just library law. Luckily, IHLS is launching a new project to help all Illinois public library trustees better understand and navigate these laws. Our forthcoming iLEAD Trustee Learning Portal can help empower library board members as leaders by giving them access to this and several other learning and development opportunities—it says so right in the name, Illinois Leadership, Empowerment, Accessibility, and Development. We’ll be launching the iLEAD portal in fall 2023. Keep an eye on your email, our social media, and this website for updates!
- What is book banning anyway?
Library book bans are attempts by private citizens, governments, or organizations to remove books from library collections based on ideological objections to those books’ content, themes, or ideas. This is censorship. Such restrictions infringe on the patrons’ First Amendment rights and violate the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. HB 2789 seeks to help Illinois libraries block these censorship attempts. The bill's House Committee Amendment No. 1 even emphasizes that the ALA Library Bill of Rights "indicates materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval."
- Would this law force librarians to keep certain books in their collections?
No. The bill is not concerned with librarians removing or excluding irrelevant, outdated, or misleading books from the collection following the library’s collection development policy. Nor does HB 2789 stop prevent reconsideration processes wherein community members may make informal complaints or formally request reconsideration of a library resource. These selection, weeding, and reconsideration processes are best practices that help libraries provide useful and reliable resources to their entire communities.
Moreover, HB 2789's House Committee Amendment No. 1 states, "It is further declared to be the policy of the State to encourage and protect the freedom of libraries and library systems to acquire materials without external limitation and to be protected against attempts to ban, remove, or otherwise restrict access to books or other materials."
For more information, see the “Not Censorship But Selection” and the ALA’s Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries.
- I’m a public library professional. How do I help parents and guardians understand that they will retain the right to decide what books their students can check out from my library?
We recommend that you invite parents to supervise their children at the library and read their checked-out books with them.
It’s also good to make sure they know they are welcome to have a discussion with library staff about their concerns. If you have particular policies or protocols in place for accommodating parental requests, be sure to inform them of those. And, if you’re comfortable doing so, you may want to assure them your librarian(s) and circulation staff are trained to help children find materials that align to their students maturity levels. Be transparent about the policies and techniques your staff use to work with young readers.
- I’m a school library educator. How do I help parents and guardians understand that they will still have a say in what materials their students can access in my library?
First, it’s important to communicate that school library educators have established policies and protocols for selecting materials that align to their students’ maturity levels. Be transparent about the tools you use, such as School Library Journal, NoveList, Booklist, Horn Book, and Kirkus Reviews.
Second, we recommend that you invite parents and guardians to talk to you. Let them know that you will welcome this type of discussion, and you’ll do your very best to make sure their wishes are honored.
Let them know that some requests from parents will be easier to accommodate than others. For instance, if a guardian calls and asks that their child not be allowed to check out Harry Potter books, most school library educators will put a note on that student’s record. Then, if that student tried to check out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that library would explain that the guardian said no. That’s an easy fix. However, it’s harder to accommodate requests that a student not check out books containing specific themes or content, such as violence or LGTBQIA+ undertones. We know that you haven’t read every book in the collection and can’t guarantee that type of limitation. In those cases, you might suggest that they:
Name titles, series, or authors that they don’t want their child to access, Read their child’s books with them, or Look up reviews for their checked-out materials on School Library Journal.
- Would this bill affect IHLS? Does the system have its own anti-censorship policy in place?
HB 2789 requires that library systems also produce a policy opposing book banning in order to receive state grants. Through our automation consortium, SHARE, IHLS already holds such a policy included in SHARE's eResources Collection Development Guidelines. Our current anti-censorship policy appears under "Reconsideration of Materials" and reads as follows:
"SHARE endorses the American Library Association (ALA) Freedom to Read Statement, Freedom to View Statement, the Library Bill of Rights, and all relevant Library Bill of Rights Interpretations. The choice of library materials by patrons at participating libraries is an individual matter.
"Patrons of cloudLibrary participating libraries wishing reconsideration of materials within the cloudLibrary collection must complete the SHARE cloudLibrary Request for Reconsideration Form in its entirety and submit via email to Cassandra Thompson, SHARE director at email@example.com. Only signed forms will be considered.
"The title in question will be reviewed by the SHARE E-Resources Committee within 30 days to determine if it aligns with the collection development guidelines. The committee’s recommendation will be reviewed by the SHARE Executive Council. Once a decision has been made, the requestor named on the Request for Reconsideration Form will receive a written response indicating the decision and reasoning. Titles will remain in the collection during this process. The step-by-step Request for Consideration Procedure is attached (Appendix A)."
- Why does IHLS support HB 2789?
Yes. Although we generally avoid making political statements, IHLS currently stands behind HB 2789 because we highly recommend that our member libraries develop a policy prohibiting book bans within the library.
Furthermore, Illinois Heartland Library System honors the expertise of our member library professionals, who are tasked with selecting resources for their patrons. Libraries hold the responsibility to offer unfettered access to information, aiding in the open exchange of ideas. In accordance with the American Library Association’s (ALA) position on book challenges, we recognize that censorship is an affront to intellectual freedom. Illinois Heartland Library System does not govern libraries, but we affirm our member libraries’ duty to select materials in service to all members of their communities, not just some. Curating collections to suit the tastes or beliefs of a single group would mean limiting others’ freedom of access—a privilege that no American holds over another. For further information about intellectual freedom in libraries, please review the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights (adopted 1939) and Statement on Book Censorship (2021).
- How can I voice my support for HB 2789?
HB 2789 is scheduled for a committee hearing on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. You can add your support for the bill prior to the hearing by submitting a witness slip. To do so:
- Click here
- Go to HB 2789
- Click the icon to the right displaying a sheet of paper and pencil
- Fill out the form for electronic filing & submit
If and when we learn of other means of support, we'll let you know.