In partnership with publishers Hachette Book Group, Macmillan Publishers and Scholastic, the New York Public Library (NYPL) announced a new initiative to increase access to commonly banned books for readers nationwide. Even without an NYPL library card, anyone can access these books through the SimpleE app on iOS or Android. NYPL cards are only available to those in New York State. However, the Brooklyn Public Library is launching its own anti-censorship initiative to distribute free library cards nationwide.
NYPL President Tony Marx said on April 13
The recent instances of attempted and successful book bans – mostly on titles that explore race, LGBTQ+ issues, religion and history – are extremely disturbing and an all-out assault on the very foundation of our democracy. The American Library Association (whose Library Bill of Rights is clearly opposed to any censorship or banning of books) recently tracked an unprecedented number of challenges for library, school and university materials in 2021.
Knowledge is power; ignorance is dangerous, feeding hatred and division. Everyone has the right to read or not read what they want – we all have the right to make those choices. But to protect these freedoms, books and information must remain available. Any effort to eliminate those choices opposes freedom of choice, and we cannot let that happen.
April and May Books
For this initiative, the NYPL chose books with diverse backgrounds, topics, and reasons why they face censorship. These books include king and the dragonflies by Kacen Callender, The Heart Catcher by JD Salinger, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. The books are in the Books for everyone collection without delay or fine.
Users under the age of 13 can only access King and the dragonflies. Themes of sexual assault (Speak), racism (Stamp) and mental illness in adolescence (Catcher in the rye) may exist in middle-level literature and are worth discussing with children under 13, but these particular books were simply not intended for a younger audience. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (also frequently faced with censorship) is a good alternative, as it tackles many of these subjects for a younger audience.
The future of this initiative
With the deadline for the initiative on these titles being the end of May (giving readers around seven weeks), hopefully it will continue through the books each month, much like The Library Read, facilitated by Overdrive (aka Libby, the app that helped me fall in love with reading again). Maybe in the coming months more publishers can join in, offering a selection of additional books for middle schoolers and maybe a graphic novel of the month. Many top graphic novels like genderqueer, Maus, This summer, Drama, Persopolisand new child are constantly under attack.
This NYPL initiative is more like a band-aid solution (for those with internet access, constant power, and a device to download) than a much bigger problem. However, it is a step in the right direction. I would love to see all states do this and more. Unfortunately, (look at Texas and Florida) some of their elected officials are among the worst book censors.
(photo: New York Public Library)
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