These are some of the titles the library will make available as part of its "Book for All" program. (image courtesy NYPL)

The New York Public Library (NYPL) will make four commonly banned books available to anyone in the country with its new “Books for All” program. Through the end of May, readers nationwide will be able to access the books on the library’s free e-reader app, SimplyE. Readers will not have to wait for the books, and as for all books checked out from NYPL, there will be no late fees.

The titles included in the “Books for All” initiative are Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (2020), King and the Dragonflies (2020) by Kacen Callender, JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1991), and Speak (2011) by Laurie Halse Anderson.

This comes in response to an enormous increase in book bans in 2021. Last week, nonprofit PEN America published its report on school book bans, finding that 1,145 titles were banned across 86 school districts in 26 states, affecting two million students. Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Oklahoma, and Kansas topped the list for most banned books.

The report found that books pertaining to race and LGBTQ+ themes were disproportionately banned. Maia Kobe’s Gender Queer (2019) and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue (2020), each of which address these two themes, were banned most frequently.

PEN America’s findings follow the America Library Association (ALA)’s report citing 1,597 challenges to books in schools and public and university libraries in 2021, a four-fold increase from 2020, and a near two-fold increase from 2019.

The scourge of book banning also persists far beyond educational spaces. Earlier this month, author Heather Ann Thompson filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervisions (DOCCS) for banning her book Blood in the Water: The 1971 Uprising at Attica Prison and Its Legacy (2017) from the Attica prison and others in the state.

“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,” NYPL President Anthony W. Marx said in a press release. “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.”

To make the banned books available nationwide — not just to New York state residents with an NYPL library card, which can always access the titles on the app — and without waiting times, the library has partnered with the books’ publishers.

“All people have the right to read or not read what they want. We are all entitled to make those choices,” Marx said.

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.