State Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, who was among those voting in favor of the anti-book ban bill last month, reads to toddlers at the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library on April 12. | Bob Uphues/Editor

Officials at the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library are making it a point to highlight legislation making its way through the Illinois General Assembly that would prohibit banning books or other resources from public libraries based on partisan political disapproval. 

A prominent link at the top of the home page of the library’s website asks library patrons to “support HB2789 to take a stand against book banning,” urging them to contact local state legislators “to insist on their backing.”

The proposed law is an initiative by Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, who oversees the Illinois State Library and through whom state library grants are doled out.

“We’re really proud of Alexi Giannoulias and his work – it is the first in the country – to mandate that libraries absolutely not ban anything under any circumstances, whether subtly or outright in order to be eligible for the grants that get funneled through the state library,” said Brookfield Library Director Kimberly Coughran. 

The village’s representatives in the Illinois House, Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez (D-24th) and freshman representative Abdelnasser Rashid (D-21st) have already made their support known by being among the 63 state representatives voting in favor of the bill last month, sending it to the Illinois Senate, where it remains in the Executive Committee.

Hernandez, the deputy majority leader of the Illinois House, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Rashid, meanwhile, visited the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library on April 12 as a guest reader during that day’s Stories Galore program for toddlers, accepting an invitation from Coughran, who sent letters to Brookfield’s state legislators as part of the library’s push to support the anti-ban legislation and forge closer bonds with its representatives in the General Assembly.

“Our libraries should absolutely be non-partisan institutions,” Coughran said. “We are one of the last bastions where you can find viewpoints on both sides of issues, whatever they may but, and it just needs to stay that way.”

On the day Rashid visited, multiple news organizations reported that county commissioners in Llano County, Texas, were mulling a plan to shut down the county’s library system to avoid complying with a federal judge’s ruling that the removal of 12 children’s books from the system’s collection violated the U.S. Constitution’s First and 14th Amendments and that they had to be placed back in circulation.

Rashid’s visit also came the day after the Republican-dominated Missouri House of Representatives passed a state budget bill that eliminated about $4.5 million for public library funding after the Missouri Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state over a law that banned a host of books from the state libraries and threatened to fine and jail librarians who refused.

The state funding represents just a fraction of the funding public libraries receive in Missouri. As in Illinois, local public libraries are funded mainly by local property taxes, but public libraries also receive per capita grants from the state. 

Brookfield’s library, for example, receives about $25,000 annually in state per capita grant funding. Those funds, said Coughran, are put toward technology purchases.

“It’s important to leave the work of libraries to professionals,” Rashid said during his visit to Brookfield on April 12. “I don’t think we should inject politics into choosing what kids get to read based on the perspective of some board members who may have other agendas. So, leaving it to librarians is the right thing to do.”

Brookfield’s public library has not received many requests to remove or reclassify materials on its shelves, but it has happened a few times in the past decade or so, said Coughran. In neither case were the materials removed after a staff review and, in at least two instances, consideration by the library board.

Earlier this year, the Riverside Public Library Board of Trustees voted to uphold a staff decision to deny a request by two residents to ban the book “Gender Queer,” a memoir, told in the form of a graphic novel, about a non-binary young adult’s journey to understand who they were.

If passed by the General Assembly, the new law would make those formal material removal processes moot. Monitoring what children are taking from the library shelves is not the responsibility of librarians, Coughran said.

“Libraries cannot take the place of parents,” Coughran said. “We highly encourage children to be accompanied when they come to the library.”