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Chicago Public Libraries closed for several hours due to threats, officials say

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A series of threats against public libraries led to a closure of all Chicago Public Library facilities on Thursday, officials said.

According to a CPL statement, all locations were evacuated and temporarily closed because of the threats.

The threats were determined to be “unfounded,” and all libraries were reopened where possible, according to the statement.

“We find ourselves in an incredibly unfortunate time where libraries are being threatened for the inclusive role we play,” officials said in a statement.

City departments are expected to offer emergency-response training and safety exercises in the wake of the threats. Officials say that new strategies will be developed to deal with threats in the wake of the incidents in recent weeks.

The city wasn’t the only one impacted by the threats on Thursday, with libraries in Bolingbrook, Aurora, Evanston and other communities all receiving similar threats, according to officials.

The threats earlier this week came as Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias testified at a U.S. Senate Judiciary hearing on the state's first-in-the-nation ban against book bans.

“…What I am concerned with is political attempts to ban books that are driving libraries to close their doors, stifle creativity, make librarians quit their jobs," Giannoulias said during Tuesday's hearing. "And just a few weeks ago, literally have to evacuate due to numerous bomb threats at multiple locations.”

The first-of-its-kind law, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June 12, states that Illinois public libraries that restrict or ban materials because of “partisan or doctrinal” disapproval will be ineligible for state funding as of Jan. 1, 2024, when the new law goes into effect.

Giannoulias, who also serves as the state librarian, faced pushback from several Republican senators during Tuesday's hearing, titled "Book Bans: How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature," some of whom questioned allowing certain books, like To Kill a Mockingbird, in libraries.

"The exact same time that I was in D.C., libraries here were forced to close their doors and be evacuated because of bomb threats, "Giannoulias told NBC Chicago. "And unfortunately, that's symbolic of what we're seeing, literally -- our bill was meant to protect libraries and librarians."

Last month, several other suburban libraries closed after received bomb threats, including Morton Grove, Gurnee, Wilmette, Park Ridge, Oak Park, Vernon Hills and Lincolnshire.

In each case, the buildings were reopened after police searches.

"Censorship has never been good for democracy," Giannoulis said. "We also have to remember the mental health issues that kids and teenagers are facing. Books provide a place to go, and use their imagination, and literature provides an avenue for them to understand different worlds."

According to the American Library Association, in 2022, there were 67 attempts to ban books in Illinois.

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