The New York Public Library’s mission is rooted in the principles of free and open access to knowledge, information, and all perspectives—in essence, the right to read. In light of recent, prominent efforts to ban books in communities across the United States, we have now partnered with publishers Hachette Book Group, Macmillan Publishers, and Scholastic to make a small selection of commonly banned or challenged books available to anyone who chooses to read them—all for free via our e-reader app, SimplyE.
The recent instances of both attempted and successful book banning—primarily on titles that explore race, LGBTQ+ issues, religion, and history—are extremely disturbing and amount to an all-out attack on the very foundation of our democracy. The American Library Association (whose Library Bill of Rights is in clear opposition to any censorship or book banning) recently tracked an unprecedented number of challenges to library, school, and university materials in 2021. Knowledge is power; ignorance is dangerous, breeding hate and division. All people have the right to read or not read what they want—we are all entitled to make those choices. But to protect those freedoms, the books and information must remain available. Any effort to eliminate those choices stands in opposition to freedom of choice, and we cannot let that happen.
Since their inception, public libraries have worked to combat these forces simply by making all perspectives and ideas accessible to all, regardless of background or circumstance. With this project, the Library is doing just that on a larger scale to reach readers across the country.
The books being offered as part of this project are:
- Speak | Laurie Halse Anderson (Square Fish / Macmillan Publishers)
- King and the Dragonflies | Kacen Callender (Scholastic)
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You | Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers / Hachette Book Group)
- The Catcher in the Rye | J.D. Salinger (Little, Brown and Company / Hachette Book Group)
Beginning today through the end of May, anyone can browse, borrow, and read these books for free on any iOS or Android device with SimplyE (note that, as per the Library’s policies on materials accessible to SimplyE users under the age of 13, only King and the Dragonflies is available to those with children’s accounts). While there are hundreds of thousands of titles in the app available to New Yorkers with an NYPL library card, these books will be available through the Books for All Collection, with or without a library card, and with the added bonus of unlimited downloads—no waits, no fines.
The Library’s role is to make sure no perspective, no idea, no identity is erased. People have the right to read or not read what they want, but those books need to be available—for the teen who has questions and wants to privately find answers; for the adult who is curious about subjects for which they have no personal experience; for those who want to do their own research and make informed decisions based on fact. Since the founding of our great nation, libraries have been beacons of this kind of independent curiosity and learning, and it is unacceptable that they be censored in any way.
Whether by reading these books to form your own opinion about them, helping to spread the word about their availability, or visiting your own local branch to explore a world of varying perspectives, we encourage everyone to join us in supporting the right to read freely. Making these books available shouldn’t feel like an act of defiance, but sadly, it is. And we are proud to be part of it.
Banned Books For All Logo. Image Credit – NYPL