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

As public and school libraries throughout the country face growing requests to remove reading materials, and some states are putting content restrictions into state law, the Forest Park Public Library is taking a stand with a Freedom to Read rally.

As the library staff sees it, making a wide range of materials freely available is part of every library’s core mission. This is not the first time the Forest Park library took a stand against book bans – last fall, it teamed up with the  Review on a Use Your Voice essay contest.

The rally, which will take place Oct. 1 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., will kick off with workshops and free food. The actual rally will take place at 3:30 p.m., with speeches by local elected officials and library advocates. Skye Lavin, the library’s adult services manager, said they hope to raise awareness about the threat of book bans while also encouraging patrons to enjoy reading.

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.

Lavin told the Review that the Forest Park Library hasn’t received any removal requests in the last two years.

Similar to other libraries, Forest Park Library considers patron requests to remove materials on a case-by-case basis, and the requestor can appeal the decision to the library board of trustees. On Jan. 16, the library board tweaked the language to limit such requests to patrons who live, own property and/or work in Forest Park.

Lavin, who organized both the Use Your Voice essay contest and this year’s rally, said that patrons’ freedom to read what they want “is an enduring, fundamental value of libraries and library workers,” pointing to the ALA’s June 25, 1953 Freedom to Read statement as an example of libraries taking a stand on the issue.

“Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad,” the statement read, in part. “We trust Americans to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. We do not believe they are prepared to sacrifice their heritage of a free press in order to be “protected” against what others think may be bad for them.”

Given the diversity of Forest Park’s population, Lavin said, it was important that the library has materials that reflect multiple viewpoints and appeal to multiple demographics.

“Our community is composed of all kinds of people, with all kinds of different information needs. Our readers and information seekers and those who use our resources or attend our programs are not all the same,” she said.

In a statement to the media, Vicki Rakowski, the library’s executive director, echoed Lavin’s comments about the library’s mission.

“By holding this rally, we hope to raise awareness of the rising call to defend everybody’s freedom to read as well as to show our community that the library will always defend their intellectual freedom,” she said.

The rally will kick off with rally-related activities such as button-making and sign-making, as well as more general reading and writing activities. A churro truck will be on hand to provide the food. Scheduled speakers include Mayor Rory Hoskins, Illinois House Speaker Chris Welsh (D-7) and John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary, a political advocacy organization.

Lavin said she hopes rally attendees will have fun – after all, reading is fun – but also think about issues.

“We hope people will consider the following points — reading is a foundational skill, critical to future learning and to exercising our democratic freedoms, we can trust individuals to make their own decisions about what they read and believe, readers deserve to see themselves — their family, friends, and community peers — reflected in a library’s books, [and] removing and banning books from public libraries is a slippery slope to government censorship and the erosion of our country’s commitment to freedom of expression,” she said.