A book display inside the Forest Park Public Library | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

The Forest Park Public Library Board of Trustees voted to narrow who can ask the library to remove books and other materials from circulation.

During the Jan. 16 meeting, the board agreed to specify that only people who live, own property, and/or work in Forest Park can make such requests. The new policy also spells out what kind of information is subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. As before, the library staff will decide whether to withdraw the material, and the requestor will be able to appeal the decision to the library board.

The question of what kind of materials libraries can circulate has increasingly become a hot-button issue. The American Library Association found that between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2022, there have been “681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, and 1,651 unique titles were targeted.” 

“In 2021, ALA reported 729 attempts to censor library resources, targeting 1,597 books, which represented the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling these lists more than 20 years ago,” the association stated in a Sept. 16, 2022 press release.

In the western suburbs, the issue surfaced in Riverside in December 2022, when two residents asked Riverside Public Library Director Janice Foley to remove Gender Queer, a graphic novel memoir chronicling author Maia Kobabe’s struggles to come to grips with their sexuality and gender identity, the requestors alleging that the content was too graphic for teen readers. Foley declined to pull the book, and the Riverside Library Board of Trustees affirmed her decision at its Jan. 10 meeting. 

Forest Park library board President Brooke Sievers said that both the board’s policy committee and the staff wanted to review how their own library handles such requests. Interim Director Sue Quinn said all libraries are required to review the policy every two years, so this was something Forest Park library would have had to consider anyway. The previous version of the policy was adopted in January 2021.

For the most part, the policy remained the same. As before, anyone who wants a material removed must fill out a material reconsideration request form. Once the form is filed, the library director puts together a committee, which includes the director and “at least two professional [library] staff members.” The committee then makes the decision based on their review of the material, “critical reviews and other relevant professional literature.”

What has changed is who can make the request. The previous policy allowed any patron to do it. That can include both Forest Parkers and non-Forest Parkers who can register their library cards through the reciprocal arrangement with most libraries in the Chicago area. The new policy restricts it to “Forest Park residents, property owners, or employees.”

“We wanted to make sure it’s limited to people in our community who have some kind of standing or a personal reason why they would ask for something to be reconsidered,” Sievers said.

The changes explicitly state that anyone can FOIA the reconsideration request forms, and that the requestor’s name and address will be redacted. Sievers said they wanted to make sure this was clearly stated in the policy.