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Banned Book Readout and Discussion at UIC University Library draws support from elected officials, activists and community members

Four panelists sitting in red chairs in the library. Author Nic Stone is speaking into microphone as others look at her.

Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Alexi Giannoulias and the UIC University Library hosted a Banned Book Readout at the Richard J. Daley Library IDEA Commons on Wed., Oct. 4 to commemorate Banned Books Week, spread awareness about the topic and to discuss ways that libraries and communities can address the growing problem that undermines intellectual freedom.

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and highlights the value of free and open access to information, bringing together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas.

UIC Dean of Libraries Rhea Ballard-Thrower opened the event with a plea to attendees to listen and learn from the event and to get involved in the fight to end book bans. “Go to those school board hearings, go to your public library, and support your libraries. This is an opportunity in which you can make a difference. Even if it’s just an email expressing that you do not feel that this is a time when we should be banning books at all...if all of us did those small things together, it's amazing what impact you would have to actually stop this very, very scary situation that we are engaged in right now.”

UIC Undergraduate Student Government Vice President Michael Fernandes introduced Secretary Alexi Giannoulias, highlighting his record of supporting librarians and fighting to secure funding for ebooks and technology for libraries. Secretary Giannoulias shared his appreciation for UIC’s contribution to the City of Chicago and spoke about the negative impact of book banning on democracy. Soon after assuming the role of State Librarian in January 2023, Giannoulias introduced anti-book banning legislation (which became law in June 2023 and goes into effect Jan. 2024) as a measure to protect First Amendment rights and prevent book banning.

In a press release issued by his office, Secretary Giannoulias asserted, “As State Librarian, I am committed to protecting our libraries and librarians no matter what, especially at a time when there is such a surge of vitriol aimed at them nationwide. My hope is that Illinois can be a safe haven for librarians and a beacon for other states that are looking to protect the Freedom of Speech. There is no place for book bans or censorship in our state or country.”

Bestselling author Nic Stone read a passage from her young adult novel “Dear Martin,” one of the most frequently challenged or banned books in the United States. Stone wrote following the birth of her son and the shootings of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. “Dear Martin” examines race relations in America through the eyes of a Black teenager who has been racially profiled and searches for guidance by writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his journal.

During the panel discussion moderated by the executive director of the American Library Association, Tracie Hall, Stone spoke about how disheartened she felt encountering so few Black characters in the canonical works she read while growing up. She continues to write for Black youth audiences to ensure that they see themselves reflected in literature. Book bans disproportionately limit access to impactful work written by and for underrepresented people as these communities are the most frequently targeted by bans. Hall noted, “Most of the books that are being challenged are being challenged because they are talking about the lived experiences… a lot of memoirs and histories of people who are already marginalized, mostly people of color and mostly LGBTQIA authors….”

Two panelists from the UIC College of Education, Prof. Edward Podsiadlik and Gina Caneva, joined Sec. of State Giannoulias and author Nic Stone. Prof. Podsiadlik is Clinical Associate Professor and Coordinator, Curriculum Studies & Critical Pedagogies & Urban Teacher Education PhD; Coordinator, Instructional Leadership - Education Studies Med; and Director of Graduate Studies. Gina Caneva is currently pursuing her doctorate in the College of Education’s Literacy, Language & Culture program. Panelists shared their personal stories and perspectives on book banning and its impact on education, and what we can do together to stop book censorship in libraries and schools.

"...Book banning is a public form of bullying, and we need to stand up to bullies….When I hear about banning a book... I believe it's banning people's voices. It's banning people's existence, banning their identity. And what could be more important to raising children than nurturing and validating their identities and their aspirations and their very beings? So yes, that is what's at stake. We need to honor and validate each other, and we don't do that by banning each other,” said Prof. Podsiadlik.

Other local elected officials at the Banned Book Readout offered their support to end book bans including State Sen. Lakeshia Collins, State Rep. Yolanda Morris and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy. UIC community members and anti-book banning activists contributed to an engaging Q+A session following the panel discussion. A group of students from Lindblom Math and Science Academy visiting UIC for tours and a library research workshop also attended the event.

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