In states across the country, lawmakers are taking it upon themselves to decide which books they think kids should read. According to a PEN America study, there have been 1,586 instances of individual book bans on 1,145 unique book titles between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022.
But the Nashville Public Library wants its users to be loud and proud about their decision to read the books the government doesn’t want them to read. The library is offering free “I Read Banned Books” library cards as part of a campaign to support people’s freedom to choose what they read. The NPL hopes to give out 5,000 of the limited-edition cards before the end of the month.
“Challenges to books, specifically books by non-White male authors, are happening at the highest rates we’ve ever seen,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program, who lead the PEN study. “What is happening in this country in terms of banning books in schools is unparalleled in its frequency, intensity, and success.”
The Nashville Public Library campaign comes after the Tennessee state legislature approved a bill that would give a politically appointed panel the final say on removing books from the state’s public school libraries they consider “obscene and harmful” to children. The state’s governor, Bill Lee, announced plans to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.
An NPL library card gives users access to the over 2 million books in their catalog, including books on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged for censorship, including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Angie Thomas’ “The Hate You Give.” And an “I Read Banned Books” card is the perfect slap in the face to an oppressive, old-school attempt at controlling the narrative.
“I want Nashvillians to know: Nashville Public Library will always respect your Freedom to Read — to independently determine what you read, and don’t read, and to exercise your role in determining what your children read,” said Library Director Kent Oliver in a press release.