Innovative, part of Clarivate™, hosted a webinar with Illinois State Senator Laura Murphy and Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown on the topic of book bans in America.
The webinar, hosted by Innovative Director of Sales Carrie Pearson, started with a discussion of Illinois’s anti-book ban legislation, which made history when it was passed in June of 2023. The way the legislature enacted this “Ban against book bans” is to require that, in order for any public or school library in the state to receive state funding, they must adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which “indicates materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” (Click here for the full text of the Illinois legislation.)
“Recently I’ve had to focus on library legislation—a whole realm of library legislation because we’ve seen a movement of people trying to prevent libraries from doing what they do best. And that is providing an opportunity for people to come and learn and grow,” said Senator Murphy. “We in Illinois wanted to be proactive and ensure that we had legislation that prevented people from banning books.”
As groundbreaking as this legislation is, however, the state’s recent embrace of challenged books could be said to have started when Chicago declared itself a book sanctuary in September of 2022. The Chicago Public Library has made a point of making endangered books available to borrow across their 81 branches for those who want to read them and has gone a step further to make information and materials available to any library who wants to emulate the Book Sanctuary ethos outlined on the website booksanctuary.org.
“In this year we’re celebrating our 150th anniversary,” Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown contributed. “Chicago Public Library was the first library in the country to put forward an intellectual freedom statement all the way back in 1936… We’ve been a forerunner in the advocacy for intellectual freedom, and it goes to the heart of our mission and our values.”
Brown also made sure to acknowledge the importance of the Illinois legislation. “I want to thank the senator because Illinois is the first to put this forward. And I think it always takes some extra courage, especially right now to politically come out and say this is where we stand in terms of our values, in terms of defending our intellectual freedom and our First Amendment rights.”
One theme in the discussion highlighted the current surge of book challenges is part of an organized effort by a minority of citizens. Said Senator Murphy, “It’s a very, very vocal minority. And they are still the minority. And when we keep that in perspective, we can’t allow that minority to derail what we know is the right thing to do.”
What can you do to support libraries and counteract censorship? “Help to push to our national legislators to ensure they know what’s going on; that their colleagues are passing laws in their states that are doing this” says Senator Murphy.
Brown supports being vocal. “Provide a counter narrative. We need to make sure that we’re engaging our friend groups. We need to make sure that our civic leaders are engaged and going to our board meetings, going to our city councils and commending our library leadership or library boards for the work that they’re doing and to point to best practices around the country.”
Senator Murphy emphasizes that parents do still have a say in what their children read. “You still have the choice to determine what is read in your household. You can be a parent, you can make those choices. You just can’t make the choices for the rest of the community.”
Hear the rest of what Senator Murphy and Commissioner Brown have to say by signing up to see the webinar on demand.
Chicago Public Library’s resources for becoming a book sanctuary: https://www.booksanctuary.org
American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom: https://www.ala.org/tools/challengesupport
Text of the Illinois state legislation on book bans: https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=103-0100
Clarivate’s partner EveryLibrary’s statistics on what Americans really think about book bans: https://www.everylibraryinstitute.org/bookbanpoll
PEN America’s key findings on book censorship in schools: https://pen.org/report/banned-usa-growing-movement-to-censor-books-in-schools/