Nonprofit recruits New Yorkers to fight book banning

PEN America marked Banned Books Week with events promoting the freedom to read and taking a stand against censorship.

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PEN America marked Banned Books Week by encouraging New Yorkers to participate in events promoting the freedom to read and advocating against book banning and censorship.

Banned Books Week, observed Oct. 1-7,  encouraged advocacy against book bans and restrictions in classrooms and libraries across the country. PEN America answered the call by inviting readers, authors, educators, librarians and anyone who opposes censorship in America to get involved. 

The organization, promoting the hashtag #FreeTheBooks, reported in its “Banned in the USA” report, that school book bans surged 33% over the past school year. That would inspire a greater urgency to reverse a growing crisis that is erasing ideas and topics from classrooms and libraries. 

PEN American has positioned itself at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide by championing the freedom to write and recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. The organization’s mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. 

PEN America also has partnered with We Believe on a campaign to send letters to state officials in collaboration with a list of publishers and other nonprofits. We Believe describes itself as a movement elevating the perspectives of parents and families fighting for the freedom to learn. 

For Banned Books Week, PEN America and We Believe gathered a consortium of the nation’s leading publishers, teacher and librarian groups, and nonprofit organizations to rally behind the freedom to read in an open letter. Among the points in the letter,  PEN America and We Believe urged that all students feel valued in the classroom, that parents are partners in education and that teachers and librarians deserve respect. 

The letter begins with, “We believe in the freedom to read. Schools and libraries are critical places to kindle imaginations and spark a lifelong love of learning. Students deserve classrooms and school libraries that help them be successful.” 

As part of the effort, the organizations are encouraging a letter campaign against book bans to local representatives. 

“The joint statement has the set of values that we’ve all adhered to and what was really cool about it was this coalition of nonprofits and publishers who are also heavily impacted in these bans. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to be able to vocally show their support for the anti censorship movement.” said Baeta. “Being able to come together and sit at the same table for this initiative was a really wonderful way of raising more awareness for it but also having an actionable item for people to participate in.”

New York has seen a smattering of bans around schools and libraries. But at the same time, the state has been able to achieve a “heightened awareness and also create materials and opportunities and resources that other places in the country can use,” Baeta told New York Nonprofit Media. 

A lot of what New York has done, in terms of advocating against book banning, has been reaching out to other communities and providing support. Baeta emphasizes that one of the best ways for New Yorkers to get involved and to offer support is by being aware of the issue. Even knowing the tactics that are used can help in fighting against the banning of books throughout the country and preventing it from happening more in New York, she said.

“Educators and librarians are facing so much with this. They’re truly overwhelmed. It’s meant to overwhelm the public education system,” Baeta told NYN Media. “So offering support in small and big ways, whether you’re fighting against bans directly or just going to a librarian, public school or public library and voicing support for them and their work, is important.”