Library bomb threats prompt closings citywide, special police attention

All Chicago libraries closed after unfounded bomb threats Thursday, part of what has been called a national “disturbing trend” of intimidation over books offered on library shelves.

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Harold Washington Library in the Loop, shown on Tuesday, is one of the Illinois libraries closed after receiving bomb threats.

Harold Washington Library in the Loop, shown on Tuesday, is one of the Illinois libraries closed after receiving bomb threats.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

All Chicago Public Library branches and many other libraries across Illinois were closed Thursday afternoon after receiving “digital” bomb threats, apparently part of a nationwide intimidation campaign over the choice of books offered on the facilities’ shelves.

A rash of threats emerged across Illinois after Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias testified Tuesday about the dangers of banning books before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C.

Chicago Police Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott emailed the police command staff on Thursday warning of “nationwide bomb threats to libraries.”

McDermott called for beat cars or Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy officers to respond to every library in each police district to let staff know they were being given “special attention” until further notice.

A union leader representing library workers called “the disturbing rash of threats against libraries in Chicago and elsewhere ... nothing less than a cowardly attempt to silence our democracy.”

The national culture clash over library book bans has been a simmering political issue in local and federal political campaigns — but it’s now sparking threats of violence.

“This has got to stop. Right now,” Giannoulias said in a statement Wednesday after bomb threats prompted libraries to close in Chicago and surrounding suburbs the day before.

“Make no mistake, these bomb threats received by Illinois libraries are part of a disturbing trend that has been escalating, starting with book bans and graduating to harassing and criminalizing librarians — and now to endangering the lives of innocent people,” Giannoulias said Wednesday.

Though the “digital” threats on Thursday weren’t believed to be real, evacuations were underway at all city libraries, according to Chicago police. The threats, including at least one active shooter threat, came in on a “chat line.”

No injuries have been reported.

Signs announcing the closure were on the doors Thursday evening of the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St., in the Loop.

We are closed “due to an emergency,” said a recorded message on the Harold Washington branch’s phone system.

A Chicago Police squadrol sits outside the Harold Washington Library on Thursday.

A Chicago Police car sits outside the Harold Washington Library on Thursday.

Dave Newbart/Chicago Sun-Times

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

“Today, in response to a new threat, we evacuated and temporarily closed all CPL locations out of an abundance of caution. Once we learned that the threats were unfounded, we reopened all libraries where we had the capacity to do so.”

On the Northwest Side, library patrons at the Independence Branch, 4024 N. Elston Ave., were told to leave shortly before 1 p.m. A library staffer made an announcement inside, saying the library was closing, and everyone needed to leave.

“All libraries are closing,” staff members said.

No one appeared to be panicked, but no reason was given for the evacuation.

A sign on the door of the Harold Washington Library on Thursday announces its closure.

A sign on the door of the Harold Washington Library on Thursday announces its closure.

Dave Newbart/Chicago Sun-Times

Several libraries in Cook, DuPage and Lake counties received similar threats and were evacuated or closed.

Aurora

At 11:17 a.m. Thursday officers were dispatched to the Aurora library branches when a bomb and active shooter threat were received through an online source, the city said in a statement. After evacuations and searches were completed, no threats were found.

Evanston

Around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the Evanston Police Department announced that a bomb threat led to the closure of the city’s main library branch and the Robert Crown Community Center, which houses another library.

The department later reported that the main library, 1703 Orrington Ave, and the community center, 1801 Main St., were “cleared” by canine units and bomb technicians after being evacuated. No explosives were found, Evanston police said.

The community center was reopened, police said, but the library remained closed.

Joliet

Officers responded Thursday to the west branch of the Joliet Public Library, 3655 Black Road, and immediately evacuated the building after staff received threats of a bomb, according to Joliet police. Their second branch, 150 North Ottawa St., was also evacuated.

Police searched the building but found no threat, and they were reopened shortly after, police said.

The union representing the library workers called the threats “disturbing.”

“Libraries are vital centers of information, community and learning. Make no mistake: The disturbing rash of threats against libraries in Chicago and elsewhere and against all who work in or visit them are nothing less than a cowardly attempt to silence our democracy,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31.

“It’s unacceptable that anyone should face violence on the job, whether threatened or actual, and we greatly appreciate the continued dedication of all library workers and of the public safety and emergency responders who keep our communities safe,” the union’s statement said.

Earlier this week, several libraries, including the Loop location, received bomb threats.

Lauren FitzPatrick and Sophie Sherry contributed to this report.

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