Among growing efforts across the nation to ban certain books from libraries and schools, the Downers Grove community is celebrating the freedom to read, assured by Illinois legislation that prohibits book banning in the state.
House Bill 2789 was signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June 12 and made Illinois the first state to “ban book bans.” The bill takes effect Jan. 1, but members of the Downers Grove Public Library Foundation couldn’t contain their joy that long, giving rise to their event, Celebrate the Freedom to Read: A Banned Book Masquerade.
“Libraries have been under attack across the country, and at the foundation it’s our job to support the library,” said Amanda ReCupido, vice president of the foundation and chairwoman of the event. “Illinois being the first state in the nation with this kind of legislation is something to be very proud of, and we are really excited about the outpour of support for this event.”
The foundation is a separate from the Downers Grove Public Library and supports the library by fundraising to support needs outside the library’s operating budget. The banned book event, which will take place from 7 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 3 at Skeleton Key Brewery, 8102 Lemont Road, Woodridge. is the foundation’s first event back since the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than 150 tickets have already been sold. With a fundraising goal of $25,000, and tickets costing $60, the foundation is just under the halfway mark with over $10,000 raised.
The event will feature food, drinks, a DJ and live music, as well as a photo booth and additional activities throughout the night like a silent auction. State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (D-Naperville), who sponsored HB 2789 and represents Downers Grove, will be the featured guest speaker at the event, which ReCupido hopes will uplift not just the Downers Grove Public Library, but all surrounding libraries.
Heather Booth, a board member for the Westmont Public Library, said she believes advocates and supporters of the freedom to read need to be more vocal in today’s climate than they may be accustomed to, and events like this represent a great way to do just that.
“It’s important now for supporters to put themselves out there as ardently and vocally as those against it,” Booth said. “We need to continue to speak in support of our libraries to prevent future censorship.”
While some may feel the legislation in Illinois solves the issue of censorship for libraries, that belief would be mistaken, Booth said. Challengers of the legislation have moved on from seeking book bans to seeking placement changes of certain titles, which Booth said would make the titles inaccessible to their intended audiences.
The Westmont library, Booth said, has received a handful of these formal challenges in recent months, including challenges to move titles such as “It Feels Good to Be Yourself,” “Melissa,” and “Flamer.” In response to those challenging such books, just as many supporters have begun to attend meetings and thank the library for its choices to protect the freedom to read, Booth said.
“It strikes terror in all our hearts to see libraries getting bomb threats and panic as people fear they may lose access to information,” Booth said. “The library community is not huge, so with Downers Grove having this uplifting event, we feel that, the same way we feel the hurt of libraries facing struggles.”
All of the money raised by the banned book masquerade will support the Downers Grove Public Library in its mission to be accessible to all, ReCupido said, with previous funds supporting public art displays and the library’s new social workers who began as volunteers and are now able to be compensated for their time. Tickets can be purchased and donations can be made online at givebutter.com.
ReCupido believes interest in an event such as this speaks volumes and represents a way for the community to champion its support for the great work all libraries do. It is an event that celebrates progress and has created an energy that she hopes permeates throughout the surrounding areas, she said.
“The fact that libraries exist is a miracle in itself, and our library is a cornerstone to our community,” ReCupido said. “When you have access to information it can change your life, and to try to ban these stories is really just to try to ban these individuals, and we are not going to take that.”