Today, the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Library (CPL) declared itself a sanctuary city for stories by establishing “Book Sanctuaries” across its 77 distinct neighborhoods and 81 library branches and committing to expand local access to banned or challenged books through library programming, from story times to facilitated discussions.
“As one of the most diverse cities in the country, Chicago is proud to continue welcoming people from all walks of life and providing spaces for them to share their experiences,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “Book Sanctuaries will serve as these spaces and send an important message that our libraries are safe places for all to explore and discover.”
People everywhere are called to join CPL and to take a pledge, commit to creating safe spaces for stories, and to launch their own Book Sanctuaries by visiting TheBookSanctuary.org. A Book Sanctuary can exist anywhere: In a library, a classroom, a coffee shop, a public park, or even a bedroom bookshelf. When someone establishes a Book Sanctuary, they are providing unwavering support and protection for the freedom to read. By establishing a Book Sanctuary, a person commits to doing at least one of the following:
- Collect and protect endangered books
- Make endangered books broadly accessible
- Host book talks and events to generate conversation, including story times focused on diverse characters and stories
- Educate others on the history of book banning and burning
To support people in establishing their own Book Sanctuaries, CPL is making available a blueprint to help people and organizations drive awareness of the dangers of book bans, rally their community to counter challenges to their freedom to read, and provide ideas for ways to take action locally.
“Libraries represent freedom for all, for every person’s freedom to write and to read. Book bans threaten to silence the stories of people—most often from and representative of marginalized communities—and narrows the scope and diversity of the stories and perspectives we can share,” said CPL Commissioner Chris Brown. “Librarians across the country are already doing the hard work of protecting books under threat. The Book Sanctuary aims to empower people everywhere to further demonstrate their support for books—and the people who love and protect them—by mobilizing action in their own communities.”
The need for Book Sanctuaries has never been clearer: In 2021, American Library Association (ALA) reported more than 729 attempted bans of 1,597 individual books. Preliminary data from ALA also shows this trend is worsening; between January 1 and August 31, 2022, there has already been a documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, targeting 1,651 unique titles.
“Chicago Public Library’s vision of a sanctuary for books that have faced censorship and removal mirrors the city’s intentionality about being a place of belonging for all, especially for people who along with their stories have been marginalized, silenced, or left out altogether,” said Tracie Hall, ALA executive director. “Now at a time when calls for the censure of books and attacks on writers and librarians is at an all-time high surpassing even that of the McCarthy era, the Book Sanctuary stands as a reminder that ideas and stories—even when we disagree on them—should convene us rather than rend us apart.”
Book Sanctuaries are part of the City of Chicago and CPL’s broader campaign to engage people across the country in “The Read-sistance” and to encourage people to embrace their right to read through access, promotion and conversation around banned or challenged books. The campaign was developed in partnership with Edelman, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and ALA.
Later this year, DCASE will unveil the design of a permanent installation that will be created by renowned artist Theaster Gates and installed early next year at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. The installation will underscore the societal and historical impacts of removal and exclusion as well as the critical role that books play in preserving knowledge, creating connection and catalyzing equitable and just transformation.
"The ongoing practice of censorship as a means of erasing uncomfortable truths from history, at the detriment of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ authors and communities, stands in the way of collective understanding, dignity and progress,” Gates said. “My work with the Johnson Publishing Library at the Stony Island Arts Bank, Robert Bird’s collection of Russian literature and research in my own academic practice continue to reinforce the importance of protecting our freedoms and rights to knowledge and the power of storytelling. I’m honored to join with DCASE, the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Library in creating a space where stories and ideas are safe."
For years, books celebrating different perspectives and marginalized voices have been targeted for removal from library collections all around the country. Some of the most challenged books of the last year include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas which takes on issues of race and police brutality, and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds which tackle topics of sexuality and gender identity. CPL, embracing what it means to be a Book Sanctuary in action, has expanded access to these three titles as well as several others to the broader Chicago community.
Earlier this month, CPL announced the Freedom to Read as the theme for One Book One Chicago—the annual citywide literary program that connects Chicagoans and their communities around a single book. This year’s book selection is Maus by Art Spiegelman, one of the country’s most frequently challenged books, and there will be numerous opportunities for the community to get involved, join conversations, and connect with fellow book lovers from September through early December.
About Chicago Public Library
Since 1873, Chicago Public Library (CPL) has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment, and knowledge through innovative services, programs, and technology. Through its 81 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits, and programs for children, teens, and adults. For more information, please call (312) 747-4300 or visit chipublib.org. To follow CPL on social media, visit us on Twitter (@chipublib), Facebook (Chicago Public Library), or Instagram (@chicagopubliclibrary).