When I was a kid, my parents let me read whatever I wanted, whether I’d found the book on our bookshelves at home, in the public library, or at the local bookstore. As readers themselves, they knew what was important: I was reading. At the time, I had no idea what a gift that was, but I do now—and that is why I am writing to you today at the start of Banned Books Week.
The freedom to read is under attack in this country. It sounds like I’m being overdramatic, and I wish I was, but the numbers don’t lie. Last year the American Library Association, which has been tracking book bans for over 20 years, reported the highest number of bans and challenges since they started keeping records.
Preliminary data for this year shows we are once again on track for a record-breaking year for bans and challenges, and that the coordinated censorship efforts we’ve seen on school libraries are now increasingly targeting public libraries.
Unfortunately, this is not a new issue—I’ve faced book bans and challenges myself for years, including for Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. But without a doubt, the problem has gotten worse. I’ve also watched in anger as the book banners of today have expanded their efforts while increasingly setting their sights on silencing underrepresented voices—particularly LGBTQ+ people and people of color—whose books are the most frequent targets of censorship.
This Banned Books Week, I am proud to stand with The New York Public Library as it launches its new Books for All campaign championing the freedom to read. This national initiative is in partnership with the American Library Association and will last throughout the whole school year. Books for All can help you learn about and discuss some of the books that are being banned or challenged and ways to take action.
One of the easiest ways to take action? Read one of the many delightful books that the banners are trying to censor. As part of Books for All, the Library is offering unlimited access to books that have been the subject of bans or challenges, via its free e-reader app SimplyE, no library card required. The books are part of the Library’s new Teen Banned Book Club, in recognition that many of the titles the banners are zeroing in on are for young people. The first featured title—the young adult fantasy novel Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro—is available today. More information about how to download the book and other NYPL offerings can be found below.
Another way to take action? Support your local library, use your local library, and say “thank you” to your local librarian. Public libraries encourage the free and open exchange of ideas for everyone. Librarians introduce us to books that show we are not alone—and books that show ways of life we couldn’t imagine. For our democracy, we need both.
Please join me in supporting libraries and standing up for the freedom to read this Banned Books Week and all year long.
Banner Image: Judy Blume graphic. Image Credit – NYPL