You may or may not have heard last week that a public good showdown took place at the Lincolnwood Public Library over the issue of book censorship. It turns out our former executive director and now board member, Wendy Katten, was at the heart of that story. It was reported on by the Chicago Tribune.
- How a national book-banning trend erupted at the Lincolnwood library, with pushback aimed at LGBTQ materials (11.1.2022)
- Speakers urge Lincolnwood Library to ban specific books, drag queen storytime, but it didn't have one (10.25.2022)
We’ve received some questions about how that happened, so we wanted to share Wendy’s notes:
Wendy heard from two IL-FPS volunteers that the Lincolnwood library board was discussing book censorship at 5:30pm the night of the meeting. Because this has been a topic at so many public spaces around IL and nationwide, she decided to go there after work and meet the two IL-FPS volunteers. IL-FPS has been following the activity of far-right “concerned parent” groups who have been drumming up fear about things like “CRT,” drag queens, and books for LGBTQ+ youth.
On the agenda of the Lincolnwood library board’s meeting was the issue of whether a couple of books for children, which the library had deemed appropriate—including a classic book from the 1980s that’s an intro to the human body for small children and a book that’s a play on Wheels on the Bus but about drag queens—should be allowed in the children’s section. From seeing what’s been happening at public meetings about book challenges around our state and country for the last year, IL-FPS has seen that these meetings can turn into something more intense than what it sounds like on the agenda.
Wendy was just attending to observe, and our other two volunteers planned to speak during public participation about book censorship or challenges in general.
When the meeting started there were about 60 people in the room. An IL-FPS volunteer spoke about why LGBTQ+ literature is so important for children and youth to have access to at public libraries. (Video)
A young man spoke about how inappropriate it was to have these kinds of books in the library. A woman with kids spoke about how she didn’t feel safe having drag queens doing readings in the children’s section. (This wasn’t on agenda, and the library hasn’t held this type of program.) Then she said she didn’t want to ban the books, she just didn’t want them where people under a certain age could see or access them and thought they should be in the adult section.
Then a woman spoke who said she was there to represent the whole room. She said all the people there were furious that the library had, in response to a FOIA request, released a petition they had signed the previous month in support of book banning and accused the board of putting them in harm’s way by sharing this info. Then she said everyone in the audience was there to tell the library board that the board were the real fascists and racists. Wendy hadn’t seen the FOIA, and she wasn’t addressing that when she stepped in after the speaker again said that everyone was there to tell the board that they were the real fascists and racists. (Video)
Wendy said out loud from the back of the room, “Not all of us. That’s not why I’m here.” And she said this because we at IL-FPS have been monitoring this playbook for two years, where school board and library board members get harassed by “concerned” parents. Then the room erupted, and someone called Wendy “Karen”, and Wendy responded to ask if Shannon Adcock, a leader of one of those parent groups, was in the room.
Things got a little disruptive after that. People were screaming at Wendy to get out, that she didn’t live in Lincolnwood. Wendy started asking parents why they wanted to tell other parents what to do or what to read to their kids, or determine whether other people's kids should have access to books in the children’s section.
One attendee got in Wendy’s face and said something like, Sit down, Missy, this isn’t your library. Wendy said she grew up in Skokie, and her ancestors warned her about book banning. He yelled back that she should leave, and they had a heated back-and-forth where she said his ancestors would surely be ashamed that he would be calling for book bans.
Police quietly asked Wendy to leave, and she then did. The meeting was shut down altogether shortly afterwards.
Our former ED stood up for the library board in the face of an organized mob who were calling them fascist and racist. She regrets that chaos ensued, but she does not regret standing up in the moment for what’s right.
The public good right now has been demoralized. Public meetings devolving into yelling matches isn’t ok, but it’s important to step in to stop what is essentially mob action against local officials.
If you are going to public meetings to oppose hateful activity, we encourage you to engage in thoughtful planning beforehand and understand that outcomes can’t be predicted. Even so, sitting quietly aside while public officials, who are attempting to uphold their duties and the common good on behalf of the entire community, get attacked simply is not enough right now.