Daily Herald opinion: Illinois takes swipe at censorship in libraries

This editorial is a consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board.

Illinois has become the first state in the union to protect librarians from efforts seeking to ban certain books.

It's much more complicated than that, to be sure, but that's at the heart of it.

This week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law passed along party lines that seeks to protect both public and school librarians from pressure to ban books based on partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

It goes on to say that if libraries pledge to adopt either the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights or a written policy that prohibiting the practice of banning books or other library materials, they will continue to get annual grants that amount to about $1,50 per capita.

That money goes toward purchasing new materials.Those that don't make the pledge don't get the grant.

This might feel to some like a Big Brother ploy to control what local librarians do, but what it really does is take the pressure off librarians faced with knee-jerk complaints from the community.

Consider what's happening in Missouri, where officials are doing the opposite. The secretary of state there, who is a front-runner for governor, is targeting libraries that stock material deemed not age appropriate for children. Libraries will face new policies barring them from giving children books their parents don't approve of, and all materials deemed not age-appropriate must be kept away from children. Events, too, must be labeled for age appropriateness. And librarians must explain how they make their selection of materials.

It won't be up to librarians to decide what is permissible but rather the state, and who knows what sorts of broad policies that could include - and who makes them. We predict the baby will be thrown out with the bath water in Missouri.

Illinois' position is much more in line with the spirit of libraries everywhere, which is to help expand minds rather than close them.

Carole Medal, the CEO of the Elgin-based Gail Borden Library, welcomes the new law. "I think the library community is grateful for the law that's protecting libraries and collections," she said. "What's offensive to you might not be offensive to someone else."

Her library embraces the ALA's Bill of Rights and also has a three-step process for considering a complaint about a book: 1) you must fill out a form explaining your objection to the book; 2) you must have read the entire work and cite harmful passages; 3) the board in consultation with the CEO will decide whether to pull it from the collection.

In her four decades as a librarian, Medal has never pulled a book. Complaints, which are rare, don't make it to the second stage, she said.

"Librarians take very seriously the books they choose for their collections," she said. "The bedrock of librarianship is to have materials and resources available. Censorship is a very slippery slope."

As protectors of the First Amendment, it's hard to disagree.

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