Banned Books Week: IL librarians face demands to remove titles


It has become almost routine in modern America: activist groups demanding libraries pull what they consider “objectionable books” from their shelves, but it is a practice dating back to the Middle Ages.This is Banned Books Week, when librarians and educators inform readers some organizations are trying to keep certain books out of public hands, especially for children. Cynthia Robinson, executive director of the Illinois Library Association, said the number of “challenges” has grown significantly over the past few years.

“Somebody will get a list that comes from maybe someone they know or some other organization, and then they will just take it to the library and say, ‘I want to remove these books. They’re not good,"” Robinson explained. “They haven’t read them, but they don’t think anyone else should be able to.”

One of the earliest known cases of banning a book was by King James the First in 1597, and the first known incident in the New World was in 1637 in Massachusetts. Robinson pointed out many of the challenges Illinois libraries have received are from right-wing ideological groups. Many of those who challenge books say they are not seeking to ban them, but want them to only be available to “appropriate” age groups. Robinson acknowledged if a particular book is taken from library shelves, people have the ability to purchase it themselves, but it still keeps it from those who cannot afford it.

“The books that are being challenged are what we would call ‘diverse’ books,” Robinson outlined. “They are books that are about people who are LGBTQ or BIPOC people, people of color. These are the books being challenged in libraries.”

Robinson added some librarians and staff have had to take precautions for their personal safety, and in some cases, they have needed legal assistance to fight litigious groups. But she thinks in the end, it hurts everyone who uses the library.

“It weakens the community, because people need to see people like themselves in libraries,” Robinson asserted. “If you are a queer person, you want to see yourself representative in the community. If you are a person of color, you want to see yourself in the library.”

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