New York's libraries are taking a stand against recent book bans by giving readers across the U.S. access to their e-books for a limited time.
The NYPL is opening access to a selection of commonly banned books (including Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger via its free e-reading app, SimplyE, now through May.
The "unbanned books" can be browsed, borrowed, and read on any iOS or Android device via SimplyE, the free e-reader app, for those 13 and older. There's a specific "Books For All" collection that has hundreds of out-of-copyright/public domain books available to anyone in the country, with or without a library card. The “unbanned books” will be in that collection, with the added bonus of no wait times to read them.
In addition, the Brooklyn Public Library is offering young adults, ages 13 to 21 nationwide, the chance to apply for a free eCard from BPL in order to get access to the library’s extensive collection of eBooks. The card will be good for one year and is designed to complement access to resources for teens in their local communities.
BPL will also make a selection of frequently challenged books available with no holds or wait times for all BPL cardholders through the library's online catalog or Libby app, including The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Tomboy by Liz Prince, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison.
Those 13 to 21, who access the free eCard from BPL, will be able to connect with their peers in Brooklyn, including members of BPL’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council, to help one another with information and resources to fight censorship, book recommendations and the defense of freedom to read.
To apply for the card, teens can send a note to BooksUnbanned@bklynlibrary.org, or via the Library’s s teen-run Instagram account, @bklynfuture. The $50 fee normally associated with out-of-state cards will be waived. Teens are also encouraged to share videos, essays, and stories on the importance of intellectual freedom and the impact that book challenges and bans have had on their lives.
The decision to offer up access to their e-book collections comes after a recent concerted effort by groups to remove books from library shelves that tackle a wide range of topics, including race, gender and LGBTQ+ issues, religion and history. The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom counted more than 700 complaints last year, the most since it began keeping records more than 20 years ago, according to BPL.
The ALA is currently leading a national United Against Banned Books campaign and NYC's libraries are similarly standing against such challenges.
The NYPL's "Books For All" and BPL's "Books UnBanned" both aim to support intellectual freedom and free access to knowledge, information and all perspectives.
"These recent instances of censorship and book banning are extremely disturbing and amount to an all-out attack on the very foundation of our democracy,” said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx. "Knowledge is power; ignorance is dangerous and breeds hate and division. 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."
By partnering with Hachette Book Group, Macmillan Publishers, and Scholastic, as well as the authors of selected titles, NYPL has been able to make these available to everyone. "While that shouldn’t feel like an act of defiance, sadly it is. And we are proud to be part of it," Marx said.
Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO of BPL says that the library "cannot sit idly by while books rejected by a few are removed from the library shelves for all."
"Books UnBanned will act as an antidote to censorship, offering teens and young adults across the country unlimited access to our extensive collection of ebooks and audiobooks, including those which may be banned in their home libraries," she said.
For more titles to read, NYPL has a few lists you can check out, including "125 Books We Love for adults, kids, and teens," "The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Black Liberation Reading List," "Vibrant Voices: New Books From Authors of Color" and "Trans, Nonbinary, and GNC Voices."
And young adults in Brooklyn can join BPL’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council here.
"The Library’s role is to make sure no perspective, no idea, no identity is erased," Marx said. "It has always been our role: to connect people with the trusted information. 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 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. What exactly are we afraid of?"