April 20, 2023
Defending Democracy: The Role of Libraries and Civic Leaders in the Fight Against Book Bans and Censorship
Featuring an introduction from Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias
Panelists: Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown, Digital Public Library of America Executive Director John Bracken and American Library Association Executive Director Tracie Hall. Moderated by Sylvia Ewing
Join us for a thought-provoking conversation with a panel of leaders as we discuss the critical issue of book bans and censorship, and their implications for civil liberties. In the midst of a national book banning crisis, the Chicago Public Library has taken a leading role in establishing Chicago as a “Book Sanctuary,” an initiative that has been adopted by public library systems around the world including Toronto Public Library in Canada and Broward County Library in Florida.
Kicking off Library Appreciation Week, this conversation will celebrate the vital role that libraries play in our society as a bulwark against restrictions on freedom of expression. As a cornerstone of democracy, libraries provide access to knowledge and ideas that are essential for personal and societal growth. Book bans and censorship undermine this role, stifling free speech and intellectual freedom.
John is Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America. Previously John worked for nearly two decades as a philanthropic investor in digital media, media policy, and innovation. He most recently served as vice president for technology innovation at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, where he oversaw the Knight News Challenge, Knight’s Prototype Fund, and other efforts to improve the creation, curation, and accessibility of information. He previously managed technology and civic innovation programs at the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. He has a master’s degree from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. from Pitzer College. He serves on the board of the Illinois Humanities Council.
Commissioner Chris Brown
Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown is passionate about redefining what public libraries can bring to the communities they serve. This mission is particularly vital for CPL—its 81 locations make it one of the world’s largest library systems.
Brown came to CPL in 2021 after more than a decade serving in Californian districts. Throughout his career, he has prioritized equity and the democratization of access to information, including nontraditional patrons and resources beyond traditional library materials. He is currently spearheading collaboration with neighborhood safety groups, City departments, and outside partners in order to establish safe spaces for youth. He has also initiated CPL’s first organized analysis of its processes with the goal of improving equity for patrons. This work began with the opening of CPL’s first regional library on Chicago’s West Side since the 1970s.
Such leadership has earned Brown national recognition. He was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2016 and has received the Urban Libraries Council Top Innovator Award, the California Library Association PRExcellence Award, and a John Cotton Dana Award from the American Library Association in both California and Illinois. Most recently, he served on the California Library Association Board.
Tracie D. Hall
Tracie Hall is Executive Director of the American Library Association. She previously served as Director, Culture Program at Chicago’s Joyce Foundation. As Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) for the City of Chicago where she oversaw the Arts and Creative Industries Division which included the Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Music Industry, and Farmers Market programs, as well as the Chicago Film Office, Chicago Artists Month and Lake FX Summit and Expo.
Prior to her work at DCASE, Hall served as Vice President of Strategy and Organization Development at Queens Library in New York City, one of the nation’s busiest libraries serving over 11 million users annually; at Boeing Company’s Global Corporate Citizenship Division where she worked as Community Investment Strategist for 9 US and 16 non-US sites and later as Chicago Community Investor; as Assistant Dean of Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science; as visiting professor at Catholic, Southern Connecticut State, and Wesleyan Universities and in non-profit and public sector posts across the country including work with Ocean Park Community Center in Santa Monica, CA where she began her career directing transitional shelters for homeless youth.
Deeply invested in the intersection of arts access, literacy, youth and economic development, Hall led the organization and founding of the NYC Early Learning Network; developed the Seattle-based SCRIBES program, which has become a long-running youth creative writing project; conceived and curated the NEH-funded Festival of Caribbean Literature with the Connecticut Center for the Book; served as author and principal investigator on three milestone Institute of Museum and Library Science (IMLS) grants; and in Chicago has worked on several initiatives positioning art at the intersection of workforce development and public safety.
A poet, fiction writer and playwright, Hall is a Cave Canem fellow and the recipient of various awards and residencies for her writing, creative and community work.
Holding degrees from the University of California, Yale University and the University of Washington, Hall was born and mostly raised in South Los Angeles. She is Founding Curator of experimental arts space, Rootwork Gallery and continues to make time to serve on various non-profit boards and committees.
Sylvia Ewing is a leadership and meditation coach, a poet, and a Principal Director at a nonprofit climate action organization. In addition, Sylvia has worked on both sides of the microphone as a journalist and now helping nonprofits, individuals, and political campaigns communicate effectively, implement strategic plans, and embrace change. Her poetry has been published in Newcity Magazine and the Chicago Reader. She is the producer of Lift Every Voice 250 Years of Poetry and Song for the Chicago Public Library and its partners. Formerly an adjunct professor at Columbia College Chicago, she taught courses on Leadership and Management in the Business and Entrepreneurship Department. Sylvia has developed accessible, affordable housing and worked for positive reproductive rights and public education changes. As a consultant, she helps leaders and organizations use asset-based tools to reach their full potential and achieve their intended impact in the world. Sylvia can be seen around the country as an on-air television host for PBS fundraising specials. In addition, Sylvia is a respected meditation teacher and creator of content used by Comer Children’s Hospital, workshop participants, and Yoga Chicago Magazine podcast listeners. She is committed to an equitable, peaceful, and prosperous world for everyone.