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Illinois becomes the first state in the U.S. to ban book bans


The battle over what books should be in public schools and libraries may be over, at least in the state of Illinois because the state is the first to ban banning books. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Alex Degman reports.

ALEX DEGMAN, BYLINE: Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the state's new law in Chicago's Harold Washington Library before a display of targeted books and said only regimes like Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and the Taliban demand banning books.


JB PRITZKER: We refuse to let a vitriolic strain of white nationalism coursing through our country determine whose histories are told, not in Illinois.

DEGMAN: Pritzker said there were nearly 70 attempts to take books off library shelves last year. Proponents of book bans say they're protecting children from ideas they don't consider age appropriate or are otherwise objectionable. Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias was the force behind the state's new law.


ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: The simple act of reading a book is a restricted write.

DEGMAN: Giannoulias oversees school and public library grants and calls librarians heroes. He says many of the attempted bans involve authors who are either LGBTQ or queer or people of color. And he says many librarians are leaving the profession because of harassment.


GIANNOULIAS: It's honestly hard and deeply disheartening to figure out how we got to this point.

DEGMAN: Under the Illinois law, libraries have to adopt the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights or similar language. It says, among other things, that materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval. If the public or school library chooses not to follow these guidelines, they'll lose access to grant funding. No Illinois Republican supported the bill. During the legislative debate, State Senator Jason Plummer said residents elect local library boards and pay local taxes. And they, not the ALA, should have the final say.


JASON PLUMMER: None of your constituents voted for this random organization. And you're taking their powers away from them simply because you may not agree with their beliefs.

DEGMAN: According to the American Library Association, there were efforts to ban more than 2,500 books nationwide last year, a nearly 40% increase over 2021. At the bill signing, ALA executive director Tracie Hall talked about freedoms that Americans have and said everyone should be proud of the state's new library law.


TRACIE HALL: History will surely note that we, librarians and legislators, civic leaders and community stewards did not stand idly by and let the right to read and to freely access libraries be taken from us.

DEGMAN: The state's new law that aims to prevent any further book bans takes effect January 1.

For NPR News, I'm Alex Degman in Springfield, Ill.

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Alex Degman