The number of reported attempts to ban books doubled in 2022, according to the American Library Association, which hosted its annual conference in Chicago last weekend. A large part of the conference, the Associated Press reported, was dedicated to the increasing calls to ban books and how to fight such bans. 

Just two days before thousands of librarians flocked to the Windy City for the six-day event, Oak Park declared itself a book sanctuary community. The Village of Oak Park, in partnership with the Oak Park Public Library, unanimously adopted the ALA’s “Freedom to Read” statement, cementing its status as a community that protects individuals’ right to intellectual freedom amid increased calls for literary censorship.   

“It’s to support democracy and protect the freedom to read,” said Joslyn Bowling Dixon, executive director of Oak Park’s public library system, at the June 20 Oak Park village board meeting.

The move comes on the heels of a state-wide ban on banning books, which was passed June 12 and goes into effect Jan. 1. The Illinois state law prohibits book banning in state-funded libraries and schools – a law Gov. J.B. Pritzker said was the first of its kind in the United States.

In becoming a book sanctuary, the Village of Oak Park has made a commitment to deny support, financial or otherwise, to businesses, government entities or organizations that ban books or champions book bans.

And by adopting the resolution, the village board further committed to upholding Oak Park as a community where every person has access to endangered and challenged books. The resolution further codifies Oak Park as a place where people can educate others on the history of banned books, as well as host book talks, story times and other such events about books without the risk of being banned as in other communities.

While the Oak Park Public Library has not received a request in the last five years to ban books, it’s happening elsewhere. The American Library Association reported that a record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship last year, a 38% increase from 2021. The vast majority of these books are about or were by members of the LGBTQ+ community and non-white authors.

The titles at risk of banning aren’t all contemporary works either. Revered works of literature routinely get removed from school syllabi and taken off library shelves including Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” first published in 1970, ranked as the third most challenged book of 2022, according to the ALA.

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