Chicago Creates ‘Book Sanctuary’ –

CHICAGO — The entrance to the Lincoln Belmont branch of the Chicago Public Library is adorned with a glass bookshelf that showcases some of the country’s most famous challenge books. The books are surrounded by yellow tape and red signs, inevitably drawing the attention of those who walk in to titles that are banned or attempted to be banned in other libraries across the country.

However, in celebration of Banned Books Week 2022, instead of taking off the shelves, library visitors are invited to learn about each book and encourage discussion on the subject of banned books. The City Lit Theatre Company has joined the effort, presenting iconic banned and challenged books through theatrical performances that people can read for themselves.

Last week, city government and Chicago Public Library officials declared Chicago a sanctuary city for these stories, creating “book sanctuaries” in 77 different community areas and 81 library branches in the city. This requires a commitment to expanding local access to banned or questioned books through library programmes.

“As one of the most diverse cities in America, Chicago is proud to continue to welcome people from all walks of life and provide them with a space to share their experiences,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news release.

Meanwhile, attempts to ban books nationwide, including in suburban Illinois, are escalating at an unprecedented rate since the American Library Association began tracking the data more than 20 years ago, according to a new report from the American Library Association.

The report found that 2022 had the highest number of reported complaints, documenting attempts to ban or restrict access to 1,651 different books, compared to 1,597 for all of 2021. The targeted headlines are stories that focus on LGBTQ, sex, race and racism, according to the association.

Tracie Hall, executive director of the American Library Association, said removing these stories from library and school shelves is especially detrimental to young people who can identify with the stories or characters in the books.

Hall praised the city of Chicago’s move to create the book sanctuary, saying it “reflects the city’s intention to be a place where all people belong, especially those who have been marginalized, silenced, or excluded altogether along with their stories. For people outside,” she said. “Now, at an all-time high in condemnation of books and attacks on writers and librarians, even more so than in the McCarthy era, Book Reserve is a reminder that even if we disagree with them – we should be called together, not divided.”

Efforts to ban the books have no specific faces or come from specific groups, Hall said. In fact, she said, attempts to challenge the title have come from both sides of the political spectrum, Democrats and Republicans, whether in suburban Illinois or California. But the report found that extremist groups played a key role in the escalation of the country’s attempts to ban books, Hall said.

“They’re recruiting parents and telling them, as good parents, they should pledge to ban these books,” Hall said.

The report also highlights the role conservative politicians and politics have played in recent efforts to ban books that promote the LGBTQ experience. Attempts to ban these books can be written objections, complaint forms submitted to the library or requests to have titles removed on social media or other platforms.

“All of these books are mostly written or told about their experiences by black, Indigenous, people of color, and LGBTQ writers,” Hall said. “This may be an attempt to silence these communities as we increasingly understand in this country that we cannot make progress without thinking about equity and inclusion.”

PEN America, a New York-based literary and free expression nonprofit advocacy group, has identified 50 groups spearheading book bans at the national, state and local levels, according to its latest report on the growing movement to censor books in schools. They include conservative Facebook and other social media groups. Moms for Liberty has chapters in Lake, Cook and DuPage Counties in Illinois and is considered one of the most active groups with 200 chapters.

In Illinois, several school districts have banned books that promote queer voices, according to the PEN report.

Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” was banned at Lake Villa’s Community High School. Harlem School in Macesney Park prohibits the use of the same title. Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” was pulled from the Rowva Community Unified School in Oneida, Illinois, according to a PEN report.

From July 2021 to June 2022, local officials banned a total of 2,532 books by 1,261 authors, 290 illustrators and 18 translators, the report said. The report found that bans occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states.

The most frequently banned book was Gender Queer, banned in 41 territories and described as “pornography” for its illustrations of sexuality, while also telling the story of the author’s struggles with gender identity and relationships with family and friends. A non-fiction story of navigating in relationships.

In June, even after a group of parents and some members of the far-right Proud Boys group expressed concerns about the controversial title, the Downers Grove High School board unanimously voted to put the title, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. This book is kept in the library.

Just last week in Barrington, the school board voted to keep “Flame” and “This Book Is Gay,” two books about gender and sexuality.

In a 4-3 vote, the board ultimately accepted the recommendation of the school’s expert advisory committee to keep the books after it was determined that they did not meet obscenity and pornographic standards.

Board member Erin Chan Ding said removing the books could affect young people who might identify as LGBTQ students. While these books may have strong imagery and words, it should be up to parents to decide if their children read them.

In August, Barrington School Board members also voted to keep “gender queer” in the Barrington High School Library.

“We’re offering these books, but we’re not actively incorporating the challenged books into the curriculum,” said Chen Ding, mother of eighth- and fourth-graders.

As a mother, she said, she understands that some parents question the books and want to keep people out of them. “I have sympathy for parents who disagree with our decision, and I acknowledge and fully recognize that there are a variety of opinions. … It is a parent’s responsibility and role to do what is best for their children, but that does not mean to limit contact with other people.”

Chan Ding said Chicago’s recent announcement of the creation of a book sanctuary was “both encouraging and worrisome.”

She worries that efforts to ban more titles will continue to grow in the suburbs. But she said she’s glad children have access to the books in neighboring cities.

“Book bans threaten people’s stories — often from and on behalf of marginalized communities — and narrow the range and diversity of stories and perspectives we can share,” said Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown.

He said the book sanctuary “is designed to allow people around the world to further demonstrate their support for books and the people who love and protect them by mobilizing action within their own communities.”

Brown is inviting Chicagoans to join and has pledged to create safe spaces for stories by launching his own book sanctuary in libraries, classrooms, coffee shops, parks and even bedroom shelves.

These commitments include collecting and conserving endangered books, making endangered books widely available, holding book talks and events to spark conversation, including storytimes that focus on different characters and stories, and educating others about the history of banned and burned books.

Brown said the Chicago Public Library’s facilities will be open to suburban readers: “We have a responsibility to make sure our readers understand that they can always turn to us.”

Brown also invites other libraries and residents to use the guides provided by the library.

Leave a Comment