In a move welcomed by freedom to read advocates, Illinois governor JB Pritzker on June 12 signed a first-in-the-nation law to discourage book bans in Illinois libraries.

Known as HB 2789, the new law conditions state grant funding for libraries on adopting the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, or adopting a similar written policy that would protect books and other resources from being “proscribed, removed, or restricted” based on "partisan or doctrinal disapproval.” According to a release, the Illinois Secretary of State’s office awarded 1,631 grants to Illinois libraries totaling more than $62 million in the last fiscal year, with 97% going to public and school libraries. The law will take effect January 1, 2024.

The Illinois law comes in response to an ongoing surge in book bans nationwide, and days after a coalition of librarians, publishers, authors, and free speech organizations filed suit to strike down a controversial new law in Arkansas that would expose librarians and booksellers to potential criminal charges for making allegedly “inappropriate” books available to minors.

“Here in Illinois, we don't hide from the truth, we embrace it," said Pritzker, at a signing ceremony held at the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center. "Young people shouldn't be kept from learning about the realities of our world. I want them to become critical thinkers, exposed to ideas that they disagree with, proud of what our nation has overcome, and thoughtful about what comes next. Everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in the books they read, the art they see, the history they learn. In Illinois, we are showing the nation what it really looks like to stand up for liberty."

The law comes months after Pritzker, in his January state of the state address, took aim at the organized political effort to ban books, calling the movement “a virulent strain of nationalism” led by “demagogues” who have embraced censorship. “It’s an ideological battle by the right wing, hiding behind a claim that they would protect our children, but whose real intention is to marginalize people and ideas they don’t like.”

Book bans are about censorship, marginalizing people, marginalizing ideas and facts. Regimes ban books, not democracies.

In his remarks at the June 12 bill signing, Pritzker echoed his state of the state comments. “The argument for banning books always begins with the claim that it's about protecting the children," Pritzker said. "But banning books from libraries isn't about that at all. Book bans are about censorship, marginalizing people, marginalizing ideas and facts. Regimes ban books, not democracies.”

The bill was initially drafted by Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias after conferring with concerned librarians and educators around the state. “I initiated this legislation to stand up and fight for libraries, librarians, and the freedom of speech, especially at this perilous time for our democracy," Giannoulias said at the bill signing ceremony. “This landmark legislation is a triumph for our democracy, a win for First Amendment Rights, and a great victory for future generations."

In May, lawmakers in New Jersey took up a similar bill.

Officials from the American Library Association, which is based in Chicago and will host its highly anticipated national conference in Chicago from June 22-27, were also on hand at the signing ceremony and praised the law.

"I could not be prouder that the American Library Association, founded in 1876, and based for much of its 147 years right here in Chicago, makes its home in a state that is first in the nation to create a law that stands up to censorship and calls it what it is: a threat to education, to libraries, to our individual freedoms, and a threat to our democracy,” said ALA executive director Tracie D. Hall. "Let us take pride in this day, for history will surely assess this moment in the years to come and note that we—librarians and legislators civic leaders and community stewards—did not stand idly by and let the right to read and to freely access libraries be taken from us."