Durbin Questions Illinois Secretary Of State Giannoulias During Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing On Book Bans And Censorship

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Book Bans: How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature.”  Durbin first questioned Secretary Giannoulias about the rise of book bans nationwide. 

According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were “1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago.  The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021.” 

“Book banning has reached new heights over the past two years.  Local leaders in states such as Texas, Florida, Utah, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, and others have all recently enacted legislation that will facilitate banning books in local school districts and libraries.  These new laws provide for civil penalties and/or jail time for violations and pose great risk to teachers and librarians.  That is why groups like the American Library Association have spoken out.  Can you reflect on those statements?” Durbin asked.

Secretary Giannoulias responded that librarians have seen an uptick in intimidation and physical threats.  He also expanded, “Because of these political attempts to ban books, we are seeing libraries close down at record numbers… And just a few weeks ago in the suburbs of Chicago, numerous libraries received bomb threats and were forced to close their doors.  I can tell you in Illinois it is very real, and across the country, the problem is worse.”  Illinois recently passed a state law that Secretary Giannoulias championed designed to support librarians and prevent unnecessary book banning. 

Secretary Giannoulias continued, “We also have to trust that they [librarians] have the professional judgment [and] experience to make decisions on what books belong in circulation.  It should not be up to fringe elements screaming from the rooftops about books they have never read.  These are librarians and individuals that have advanced degrees in library science, masters of library science, masters of information and library science.  It is important to make sure we allow them to determine what is in circulation and it is important for us to trust parents to determine what books their kids should read.”

Durbin responded, “I agree with you—the first responsibility is the parent's responsibility.  We believe there are age-appropriate restrictions that can be introduced in libraries and other places which generally are consistent with freedom of expression.”

In 2022, activists submitted more than 1,000 requests to ban books at public schools and libraries—the highest number of requests submitted to ban books in over twenty years.  Today’s hearing examined the history of book bans in the United States, the recent push by a small group of zealots to bring back book bans to limit access to a broad range of subject matters, and the limitations that book bans impose on liberty through literature.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.