New York Public Library makes banned books available nationwide
The New York Public Library (NYPL) will make four commonly banned books available to everyone in the country with its new “Books for All” program. Until the end of May, readers across the country will be able to access books on the library’s free e-reading app, SimplyE. Readers won’t have to wait for books and, as with all books borrowed from NYPL, there will be no late fees.
Titles included in the “Books for All” initiative are Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped: racism, anti-racism and you (2020), king and the dragonflies (2020) by Kacen Callender, JD Salinger The Heart Catcher (1991), and Speak (2011) by Laurie Halse Anderson.
This comes in response to a huge increase in book bans in 2021. Last week, the nonprofit PEN America released its report on school book bans, finding that 1,145 titles have been banned in 86 school districts in 26 States, affecting two million students. Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Oklahoma, and Kansas top the list of most banned books.
The report found that books relating to race and LGBTQ+ themes were disproportionately banned. At Maia Kobe Gender Queer (2019) and George M. Johnson Not all boys are blue (2020), which each address these two themes, have been most frequently banned.
PEN America’s findings follow the America Library Association (ALA) report citing 1,597 challenges for books in schools, public and academic libraries in 2021, a four-fold increase from 2020 and a two-fold increase compared to 2019.
The scourge of book bans also persists far beyond educational spaces. Earlier this month, author Heather Ann Thompson filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervisions (DOCCS) for banning her book. Blood in the Water: The 1971 Attica Prison Uprising and Its Legacy (2017) from Attica Prison and others around the state.
“These recent cases of censorship and book bans are extremely disturbing and constitute an all-out assault on the very foundation of our democracy,” NYPL President Anthony W. Marx said in a press release. “Since their inception, public libraries have worked to combat these forces simply by making all perspectives and ideas accessible to everyone, regardless of background or circumstance.”
To make banned books available nationwide — not just to New York State residents with an NYPL library card, who can still access titles on the app — and without wait times, the library partnered with the publishers of the books.
“Everyone has the right to read or not to read what they want. We all have the right to make those choices,” Marx said.