Illinois public institutions barred from banning books under bold new bill.

Gavin Nicoson

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to approve new legislation which would withhold federal funding from public institutions like libraries and schools which fail to adopt anti-censorship policies. The legislation, slated to take effect on January 1, 2024, references the American Library Association’s “Library Bill of Rights,” which dissuades the banning of books on political, religious or moral grounds. 

Dr. Peter Kivisto, a professor of sociology at Augustana, said that “moral panics” like book banning are not new to America.

“In my lifetime, the Red Scare, that’s an example of a moral panic,” Kivisto said. “It destroyed people’s lives and there were purges at universities, so panics have real negative consequences.” 

Those consequences can have great reach, and book censorship has even affected science textbooks.

“High school science books [in America] were attacked for teaching evolution, so publishers did all kinds of contortions to win over the U.S. legislature,” Kivisto said. “They would, for example, instead of saying that dinosaurs roamed the earth X number of million years ago, say, ‘long ago’.”

Recent book bans largely target themes of American history and LGBTQ+ acceptance. Dr. Adam Kaul, a professor of anthropology at Augustana, said that this backlash was facilitated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of the pandemic, parents were seeing into the classroom, and it looks so different now than what they remember,” Kaul said. “Students are having more nuanced conversations about history and gender identities. The easy target becomes the messenger: teachers, books and libraries.”

Augustana senior Gareth Kent, an upcoming teacher of high school English, said that kids often feel invisible without access to inclusive literature.

“When you’re trying to limit access to materials that make people feel affirmed and seen, you’re marginalizing those communities,” Kent said.

Book bans also place educators in a position between two constituencies – students and parents. Senior Marissa Milone is majoring in secondary English education at Augustana.

“There’s been a lot of power given to parents when it comes to decision making, but at the end of the day, we have gone to school, we have degrees, we will be getting more degrees and becoming more aware of what benefits children,” Milone said.

As a private institution, Augustana college is not beholden to this new legislation. Even so, Tredway Library director Stefanie Bluemle said that the college promotes open access to banned books

“Quad City residents can come here and take a look at our book collection, and we do make an effort to buy a lot of the books that are being banned,” Bluemle said. “We also have a really strong children’s collection to support students who are studying to teach at those levels.”

Bryon Lear, director at Moline Public Library, said that the library hosts a “banned book week” every October.

“We’re just hoping to make the community aware. We provide access to information; we truly believe that every person has their book and every book has its person,” Lear said.

In addition to facilitating access to information, Kivisto said that it is important to face moral panics head-on.

“One of their arguments these days is that it’s about age appropriate stuff, but press them a little bit, and they say, ‘no LGBTQ stuff’,” Kivisto said. “That’s perverse. And that’s how you can flush them out: by confronting them.” 

Kent acknowledges the ability of teachers to stand up for their students.

“It’s about educating yourself as to what’s going on and fighting against things that don’t feel right,” Kent said. “Close the door and teach what’s right.”