It's Banned Books Week . . . Again
When I began writing this post, my intention was to shine a light on the positive. Banned Books Week comes around every year, sadly enough, and as book lovers, we all know the bottom line: censorship is bad. So, I set out to find the inspiring stories, the people who are fighting tirelessly to protect our intellectual freedom—and I did find them! I found a lot. That’s still the point of this post and I promise to tell you all about it. But on my way to the bright side, I got a little furious.
Because this year’s Banned Books Week just feels different. It’s hard to ignore the resurgence of attempted censorship, its distinct political and cultural agendas, and the strain it’s putting on communities. School boards are allocating thousands of dollars to review books instead of funding programming or paying educators better salaries. Library systems are so overwhelmed by the number of challenges that librarians have had to rely on Artificial Intelligence to check for content—an imprecise method, for sure, but it would be impossible for librarians to read every challenged title. In some circumstances, library staff have been threatened with legal action or bodily harm; even bomb threats are a thing that actually happen regularly now.
But here’s the bright side I mentioned earlier: we’re not the only ones distressed and that’s a good thing. As the number of book challenges rises, so does the number of people fighting for the right to read. Educators, parents, students, and community members are finding ways to keep books accessible to those who need them, in both traditional and innovative ways.
Take for instance:
- The Banned Book Club, which provides free access to e-book and audiobook copies of specific titles removed or restricted from public libraries in a user’s area.
- A group (including two local bookstores) has successfully sued to block Texas' HB 900, a law that would require vendors to rate books based on their sexual content or be prohibited from sellling to Texas schools. And in other lawsuit news: PEN America, an organization that champions freedom of expression, along with Penguin Random House, authors, parents, and students are suing the Escambia County School District in Florida for violating their First Amendment rights.
- Speaking of authors, mega-bestselling and award-winner of possibly everything John Green, whose books are not only being challenged across the country but in his own hometown, has entered the conversation as an advocate for teens.
- Book Sanctuaries are places where challenged books are easily accessed by the public. They’re popping up in expected locations, like libraries, and the unexpected—like churches.
- In some communities, local businesses are pitching in. These breweries in Maryland created their own banned book inspired beers, with 20% of the proceeds going to the Anne Arundel Public Library. And a teacher in Florida teamed up with a well-known ice cream shop to make the county’s most challenged books available to all.
- Young adults are asserting their own agency as well. Students Protecting Education is a nationwide student-led organization, founded by teens, dedicated to ensuring the right to read. And the Brooklyn Public Library has assembled the Intellectual Freedom Teen Council, a group of teens who meet virtually to discuss what’s currently happening in their communities all over the country. A fantastic way to bridge the gap between students in larger cities, where book challenges are less common, and their peers in smaller towns who seem to be facing the brunt of book banning.
- Moveon.org’s Banned Bookmobile is traveling to states and distributing banned books where they’re needed most.
And this is just a sampling of what I found. Across the United States, people are standing up for the freedom of expression—and so can you. If you’re interested in joining the fight, Book Riot has created Anti-Censorship Bingo. It’s packed with actionable items to support the cause because your voice makes all the difference.
Here at The New York Society Library, open access to information has been our mission from the start. From one room in the old City Hall to now nearly 300,000 volumes, we understand the necessity of a collection that evolves alongside its community. We know books quite literally save lives. At some point, a book has probably changed yours. Together we have the power to make sure everyone has that same opportunity, and we can hopefully, finally, make Banned Books Week a thing of the past.