At no cost, the New York Public Library wants every American citizen to have access to works that are now prohibited from being read.
As tensions over alleged censorship and banned books rise in tandem with a volatile political atmosphere, the director of the New York Public Library thinks the issue is one of accessibility.
On Wednesday, the NYPL unveiled a new service that allows anyone—not just library cardholders—to browse, borrow, and read a selection of contested (and frequently prohibited) books for free. End of May is the deadline for the initiative named Books for All.
Some of these books have been the subject of debate for decades, while others have only recently come to light as those who support parental control over the books their children and others have access to at school or in public arenas have argued against those who remember the much higher stakes that book banning has historically held. Now, legislatures are legislating these grievances, which may be making a difference.
Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, said in a blog post on Wednesday that the library’s mission is to ensure that no viewpoint, no concept, and no identity be eliminated.
For the teen with questions and a desire to find answers privately, for the adult with an insatiable curiosity about topics with which they are unfamiliar, and for anyone else looking to conduct independent research and come to their own conclusions based on facts, he wrote, “people have the right to read or not read what they want,” he wrote.
New Yorkers with a library card may access hundreds of thousands of titles on the app, but certain books will be made accessible to all New Yorkers, regardless of their library card status, and with the extra advantage of limitless downloads. That includes no delays or penalties.
SimplyE, a free software for Apple iOS and Android devices, allows readers to download these picks for free.
Among the initial round of items are:
Author Laurie Halse Anderson (Square Fish / Macmillan Publishers) has published “Speak.”
Kacen Callender’s “King and the Dragonflies” (Scholastic)
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers / Hachette Book Group as “Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You,” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (credit to Matt Salinger, Little, Brown & Company / Hachette Book Group).
As the head of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, Deborah Caldwell-Stone explains, the number of “challenged” books has increased over the last several years.