A Publication of WTVP

Read outside your comfort zone

by Jennifer Davis | illustration by Missy Shepler |
April rough 6-book ban

Central Illinois libraries are banding together against book bans in 2023

It was September 2012, and James Klise was invited to a “Right to Read” event in Kansas to speak to eighth graders on the topic of censorship and teen books.

Klise, a son of Peoria who now lives and works in Chicago as a school librarian and burgeoning author in the Young Adult genre, was thrilled. Until a few days later, anyway, when the school librarian, very apologetically, disinvited him.

Yes, the LGBTQ+ author really was disinvited to a “Right to Read” event.

The irony was not lost on him or the Chicago Tribune, which published his op-ed, or the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), which also picked up the story.

What was a big deal nearly a decade ago may seem like a minor footnote in the headlines of today, with schools and libraries across the country experiencing unprecedented efforts to ban or remove books.

This is why, for the first time, several central Illinois libraries are joining together to form a Freedom to Read partnership, encouraging everyone to exercise their intellectual freedom. Get a library card. Read outside your comfort zone. Unite against book bans.

To start, Klise and other authors who have faced censorship have been invited to come speak, but other events — panel discussions, screenings of banned books made into films, and more — will be promoted across all the partnering libraries from April through October, culminating in Banned Books Week, October 1-7.

‘free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture’ — Freedom to Read

“We’ve been fortunate that our community recognizes and respects our commitment to building a collection that’s home to a wide range of ideas, issues and viewpoints,” said Peoria Public Library Executive Director Randall Yelverton. “Still, we’re always striving to shine a light on the tenets of Freedom to Read, including that free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture.”

For more than 20 years, Peoria Public Library has hosted Peoria Reads, a citywide literary event inviting all residents to read the same book simultaneously. But this year, instead of one city and one book, Peoria Public Library has joined with sister libraries in Chillicothe, Dunlap, East Peoria (Fondulac), Metamora (Illinois Prairie), Morton and Pekin, along with longtime Peoria Reads partners Bradley University, Methodist College and Neighborhood House, to encourage everyone to read outside their comfort zone by choosing the challenged books of their choice.

Instead of Peoria Reads, we are Central Illinois Reads.

“The freedom to read brings forth the freedoms to learn, to communicate, and to engage in a democratic society. To deny anyone the freedom to read — to dictate that someone else should not have access to a book based on your opinion — is to deny them the choice to experience the ideas of others and the opportunity to develop opinions, knowledge and ideas of their own,” said Fondulac District Library Director Genna Buhr.

“Public libraries provide and promote access to books, thoughts, and ideas for everyone, regardless of their interests, beliefs or income, so that the freedom to read, to communicate, and to engage is sustained irrespective of ever-changing and highly individual notions of what is acceptable, appropriate or offensive. Supporting the freedom to read does not necessarily mean supporting the content of the book or the author’s sentiments. Someone can vehemently disagree with a book and still support the freedom to read and access it.”

Because, as Klise puts it, “When we talk about censorship and book banning in any form, we’re ultimately not talking about books.”

To learn more about Central Illinois Reads: Freedom to Read and upcoming events, visit

Jennifer Davis

Jennifer Davis

is the manager of public relations at Peoria Public Library and a former journalist