The New York Public Library has partnered with publishers Hachette Book Group, Macmillan Publishers, and Scholastic to offer a selection of commonly banned books to anyone in the country via its free e-reading app SimplyE.
The e-books will be available beginning today through the end of May with no waits and no fines as part of the Library’s “Books For All” effort, a statement against the recent rash of attempted or completed book bannings plaguing the nation’s school and public libraries. “Books for All” also underscores the importance of open and free access to knowledge, information, and all perspectives: one of the key missions of public libraries since their inception, and a principle at the foundation of the country’s democracy of informed citizens.
While book banning has long been attempted and fought by public libraries (the American Library Association (ALA) Library Bill of Rights is clear in its opposition to any censorship or book banning), the issue has been in the spotlight in recent months, as there have been several high-profile instances of attempted or completed book bans across the United States, as well as proposed legislation to limit what students are able to access. ALA—which is leading a national United Against Banned Books campaign—announced last week that they tracked an “unprecedented” number of challenges to library, school, and university materials in 2021: 729 challenges to 1,597 individual books. This is more than double the challenges tracked in 2019. The books being challenged often focus on race, LGBTQ+ issues, religion, and history.
“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. With the partnership of Hachette Book Group, Macmillan Publishers, and Scholastic, as well as the authors of these titles, we are doing that on a larger scale with this project, making a small selection of often banned or challenged books available to anyone who wants to read them. While that shouldn’t feel like an act of defiance, sadly it is. And we are proud to be part of it.”
He added, “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.”
The books being offered as part of the “Books for All” project have all either appeared on American Library Association lists of most or commonly banned books, or have been the subject of recent attempted bans or challenges.
They are available with thanks to the publishers and the authors, and include:
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Square Fish / Macmillan Publishers)
- King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (Scholastic)
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group)
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group)
Please note: as per Library policies, patrons 12 and under can only access children’s books.
The “unbanned books” can be browsed, borrowed, and read on any iOS or Android device via SimplyE, the free e-reader app created, designed, and developed by the Library and launched in 2016. Hundreds of thousands of titles are available for free in the app, primarily to New Yorkers with NYPL library cards. The Books For All collection, however, features 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. The project is possible because The New York Public Library actually owns the SimplyE app, and can curate content as needed.
To access the books:
- Download The New York Public Library’s free SimplyE app
- Verify that you are at least 13-years-old
- Locate “The Books For All collection”
- Locate “unbanned books” within that collection
- Browse, check out, and read desired books from any iOS or Android smartphone or tablet
The hope is that this relatively small collection of books—provided with unlimited downloads by the publishers—will inspire Americans to read something new, and visit their own local public libraries to explore a world of other titles: whatever titles they want to read.
In addition to offering free and open access to books, The New York Public Library offers reading recommendations on a variety of topics. Expert librarians help connect patrons to books that will spark curiosity and a true love of reading and learning (see the Library’s 125 Books We Love for adults, kids, and teens, released in 2020 to celebrate the Library’s 125th anniversary).
As part of these efforts, the Library has offered lists that amplify traditionally underrepresented voices. Examples of recent lists include:
- The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Black Liberation Reading List
- Vibrant Voices: New Books From Authors of Color
- Trans, Nonbinary, and GNC Voices
Additionally, the Library hosts programs that dive deeper into some of these topics, including a recent virtual panel discussion on banned books hosted by the Library’s Center for Educators & Schools, and featuring authors Laurie Halse Anderson (whose book Speak is being offered as part of Books for all and won the Free Speech Defender Award from the National Coalition Against Censorship) and Cory Silverberg, as well as others.
“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.
Learn More, Direct to “Books For All” Website