HB 2789 Ties Illinois Library Funding to Anticensorship

A bill that explicitly prohibits Illinois libraries from banning books is speeding its way toward passage by the General Assembly, and the Illinois Secretary of State said he wants “every librarian in the country to know we have their backs.”

Illinois state capitol exteriorA bill that explicitly prohibits Illinois libraries from banning books is speeding its way toward passage by the General Assembly, and the Illinois Secretary of State said he wants “every librarian in the country to know we have their backs.”

“This is an issue that’s very personal for me,” Alexi Giannoulias, who drafted the legislation affecting both public and school libraries after taking office in January, told Library Journal. “We want to be national leaders on this issue. We want people across the country to see you can take a stand.”

The bill, known as HB 2789, is a chance for Giannoulias and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats, to throw their political weight behind library protections, not always the expedient choice at a time when libraries across the United States are besieged with book challenges and under pressure to limit materials featuring LBGTQIA+ or BIPOC people or narratives. EveryLibrary.org recently warned of legislation under consideration in several states that would allow civil and even criminal prosecution of librarians.

HB 2789 makes few demands of Illinois libraries. They must either adopt the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights—which includes a statement reading, “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval”—or craft a written statement prohibiting the practice of banning books or other materials. Each library would also be required to draft an anti-censorship policy.

There’s one catch: Libraries that don’t comply would forfeit the right to receive state financial grants.

Giannoulias, who as secretary of state acts as Illinois’s chief librarian and state archivist, told LJ he was eager to put some legislative teeth behind his desire to ease pressure on library professionals. “I think it’s disgusting what’s happening around the country,” Giannoulias said. “I think it’s an assault on our libraries, our librarians.… I think it’s an assault on our democracy, on our freedom of thought. I think we should all be ashamed.”

A March 8 press release from Giannoulias’s office cited data from ALA reporting 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois in 2022, up from 41 in 2021. “What I really want to be clear on, and I think people need to understand, is these efforts to ban reading materials have nothing to do with books,” Giannoulias said. “They are about restricting the freedom of ideas that certain individuals disagree with and believe that no one should think or have access to.”



HB 2789 passed the Illinois House 69–39 on March 22. Not a single Republican voted for the bill. “That’s insane, frankly,” said State Sen. Laura Murphy, a Democrat. In the past, she said, library-related bills in Illinois usually collected some GOP support. House Republicans who voted against the bill did not respond to LJ ’s request for comment.

The bill went to the Senate on March 23, had a first reading, and must now advance through committee before facing a full vote of the 59-member upper chamber. The spring legislative session ends on May 19. Democrats have a supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly; they don’t require Republican votes to pass any legislation. In the state Senate, Dems hold a 40–19 advantage.

Murphy predicted HB 2789 would pass the Senate with at least a few GOP votes. She described herself as “pretty confident” Pritzker will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk. “He’s very supportive,” Giannoulis added of the governor.

Pritzker, like Giannoulis, has been publicly outspoken against book challenges. He took the extraordinary step of raising the issue during his February 15 State of the State address.

Toward the end of that speech, Pritzker warned that state investments in education are “all meaningless if we become a nation that bans books from school libraries about racism suffered by Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, and tells kids they can’t talk about being gay, and signals to Black and Brown people and Asian Americans and Jews and Muslims that our authentic stories can’t be told.”

Bookriot.com called it the “first time a governor in the country has directly spoken about the wave of censorship, book banning, and harassment being seen by schools and libraries.” If passed, the bill won’t take effect until January 1, 2024. It’s standalone legislation, Murphy said, not tied to any budget appropriations.

Cynthia Robinson, president of the Illinois Library Association, said she has not heard from “any library professionals who are opposed” to HB 2789. “Most of our libraries will be in good shape,” she added, noting that many in Illinois already comply with requirements set forth in the bill. Robinson said the secretary of state’s office may have to clarify some protocols after the legislation is adopted.

There are 645 public libraries in Illinois and 2,577 school libraries, according to Robinson. The state’s FY23 appropriation for state per capita grants is $17,874,900; it pays $1.475 per person in a library’s service area. Libraries in Illinois also rely on revenue from local property taxes.

ALA logged 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest total since it began compiling that data more than 20 years ago. It also reported a record 2,571 unique titles targeted for censorship. Giannoulias said he’s only too aware of the pressure libraries are facing across the country, including Illinois border states like Indiana and Missouri. “I wouldn’t say I’m worried, I’d say I’m horrified and embarrassed,” he said. “That’s why we want to take a stand.”

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