In solidarity with libraries across the country, the U-M Library is offering 16 titles — almost 2,000 free books — that have been recently challenged or banned and that span themes, topics and depictions that are most often challenged.
The topics covered include sexuality, especially depictions of LGBTQIA+ people; race, especially accounts of harms to Black, Indigenous and other people of color; and discrimination against religions like Islam.
People are invited to visit the tent outside Hatcher Library from 1-3 p.m. Oct. 3-5 to pick up a free book. Participants also can learn about actions they can take to resist bans and learn why the freedom to read is essential to a functioning democracy.
The giveaway is part of the U-M theme semester, Arts & Resistance, and is in the spirit of this year’s American Library Association Banned Books Week theme, “Let Freedom Read.”
In 2022, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom documented the highest number of attempted book bans since it began compiling data about censorship more than 20 years ago. These challenges and bans are growing at a time when other democratic freedoms in schools, polling places and elsewhere also are under attack.
“The growing push to ban books in school and public libraries here in Michigan and throughout the country should serve as a real wake-up call about growing threats to our democratic freedoms,” said Lisa R. Carter, dean of libraries and university librarian.
“The groups behind these bans are well-organized, and it’s clear that they won’t stop at banning books. Libraries, universities and supporters of free speech must be equally fierce and united in our advocacy for the freedom to read.”
The banned books list was compiled by the U-M Library communication team and four librarians: Jo Angela Oehrli, librarian for children’s literature; Sigrid Anderson, librarian for English language and literature; Meredith Kahn, librarian for gender and sexuality studies; and Tashia Miller, librarian for outreach and engagement.
While the group originally planned to offer 10 titles, its list quickly expanded to 16 in an effort to tackle as many of the themes and topics most often challenged, including sexuality, race and gender. It didn’t include any classic titles but instead focused on books published and challenged more recently.
According to 2022-23 school year data from PEN America, there were 3,362 instances of book bans in U.S. public school classrooms and libraries. These bans removed student access to 1,557 unique book titles, the works of over 1,480 authors, illustrators and translators. Efforts to suppress free expression are particularly pervasive in public schools, where coordinated campaigns to restrict the freedom to read, learn and think are affecting students nationwide.
“Book bans take away the ‘agency’ of readers and parents because they take away the decision of whether someone can read a book or not — book bans make that text unavailable in an official way to everyone in a community,” Oehrli said.
The giveaway is sponsored by LSA, the U-M Museum of Art and a $20,000 grant from the U-M Arts Initiative, which is exploring how the visual, performing and literary arts play a central role in shaping cultural and political narratives.
It is hoped that the Arts Initiative grant will spark a conversation and invite the campus community to consider the books that have been banned in recent history, books by authors of color, by LGBTQ+ authors, and by women.
This is a key example of programming around the U-M theme semester, Arts & Resistance, a cross-campus partnership among UMMA, the Arts Initiative and LSA.
“Ideas can change the world, and the arts serve to amplify and share these ideas,” said Mark Clague, executive director of the Arts Initiative. “Song, for example, puts emotional impetus behind ideas. Books shape these ideas into very human stories, both real and imagined, that make the abstract into something we can all relate to.
“The Banned Books Giveaway not only celebrates free speech and our First Amendment rights, it shows how art gives voice to those who are so often silenced. I hope it sparks a campuswide conversation about how a society’s values shape public discourse.”