Bookmobiles and Better Access to Banned Books for Banned Books Week

This year's Banned Books Week (October 1 - 7) has seen a flurry of activity, including the University of Chicago's announcement that it is expanding access to banned books for researchers and members of the public in Chicago, throughout Illinois and across the U.S.

The American Library Association reports that censorship attempts at libraries are on pace to set a record for the third straight year. In the first eight months of 2023, the ALA recorded challenges to 1,915 unique titles, a 20% increase over challenges during a comparable period in 2022. Books written by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQIA+ community made up the vast majority of such challenges.

“We believe that knowledge enriches life, and book bans stand against freedom of inquiry and expression and therefore against the core principles of the University of Chicago,” said Torsten Reimer, Dean of the University Library. 

The UChicago Library already owns approximately 25% of a list of more than 1,500 books that have been banned from libraries across the U.S. and aims to rapidly build and maintain a complete collection.

Elsewhere, book buses have been out on the road to stimulate discussion about the freedom to read, as well as handing out copies of books that have often been challenged. Among them was action group’s Banned Bookmobile (which made its first tour of the Midwest and South in July), Penguin Random House’s Banned Wagon in the South including Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans, and Houston, and The New Republic, in partnership with nonprofit House of SpeakEasy.

Meanwhile, The New York Public Library launched 'Books for All' to underscore the importance of reading and access to knowledge for all, and the vital role that public libraries play in our democracy. 

The campaign, which will run through the school year, ending in June, is the longest anti-censorship campaign in NYPL history. It aims to reach all ages but with a major focus on teen youth and engagement, in recognition of the fact that the majority of books currently being banned or challenged are young adult books. The campaign includes a new 'Books for All: Teen Banned Book Club' that will provide unlimited access to select young adult titles that have been the subject of bans and/or challenges to anyone via the Library’s SimplyE app. To reach teens all over the country, the Library is partnering with the American Library Association (ALA).

“In America today our basic freedoms are under attack," said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx, "the freedom to choose what to read, to learn about new ideas and experiences, to see and understand more about ourselves and others. A vocal minority seeks to censor not just books, but the people in those books, because they find them uncomfortable. We know that stories are powerful and can shape our lives, open our eyes, and change the world but unlike advocates of book banning, we believe that’s a good thing and that free people have the right to choose for themselves."