This past Saturday, September 20th, Mary Dempsey received the Harry Kalven award from the ACLU for her commitment to books and free speech. Ms. Dempsey is the Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, and no one deserves such an honor more. In her remarks, Ms. Dempsey said that our library is open to everyone. You don't need a passport. You don't need a job. You don't need to be tall enough, short enough, blonde enough, black enough, or anything else enough to use the library. When you walk through those doors, you walk in to the world of words, and the words you choose to read are your private business. No one else gets to know about them.
The Chicago Public Library is one of the great city library systems in America. It's open every day of the week, which isn't true in a lot of places. Public library budgets in real dollars are thirty percent of what they were twenty-five years ago, so a lot of cities have trouble keeping the doors open, let alone keeping the shelves stocked. That's why we feel exceptionally fortunate in Chicago to have Commissioner Dempsey and the strong support of the Mayor for our library system (see, Guys, I did think of something good to say about this town. And since the impetus for the library comes from the Mayor, I can even say something good about him on this page).
This week is banned books week where libraries all over the country, in support of our First Amendment freedoms, celebrate and read from banned or challenged books. In Chicago, we'll be doing this on Saturday, September 27th, in the big plaza outside the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue. My favorite banned book of recent years is And Tango Makes Three. This is the lovely -- and true -- story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who fell in love with each other, built a nest together, and hatched and raised a chick from an egg abandoned by its (heterosexual) birth mother. The book has been challenged more than any other recent children's book because it's -- you can't believe how hard it is to type these words without falling off your chair in either laughter or disbelief -- anti-family. Go figure. The authors, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, are going to be at the Tribune Plaza reading the book around 2:30 on Saturday. I love this book! If you're anywhere near downtown Chicago on Saturday, stop by and listen to the authors tell this wonderful heart-warming anti-family story.