Book bans: How people are making these books available

As school boards across the United States increasingly vote to remove books from library shelves and classroom curricula, community members are countering by amplifying awareness of those very books. These grassroots efforts range from free book drives to book clubs to lawsuits.

A month after the Wentzville School District, in a suburb of St. Louis, removed several books by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQ community, two Wentzville students, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, filed a lawsuit.

Why We Wrote This

Banning books can have unintended consequences. In the United States, one result has been a redoubled effort to ensure those books – and the ideas they express – are freely available.

Tony Rothert, director for integrated advocacy at the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and an attorney for the two students, says the lawsuit is the first of its kind to emerge out of the recent wave of book challenges in the US

“We’re hoping to have a change in the [Wentzville School District’s] policy such that it’s more protective of students’ First Amendment rights,” he says.

In the meantime, the St. Louis bookstore EyeSeeMe is teaming up with In Purpose Educational Services on a donor-funded campaign that will send a free banned book each month to those who request one, as funding allows. The program has already received over $30,000 from people around the nation.

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As daylight turns to dusk and a closed sign dangles from the outside of EyeSeeMe, a St. Louis children’s bookstore, a glance through a side window reveals an after-hours banned books operation. Paper strips litter the floor. Books pass from hand to hand as eight volunteers package 600 copies of “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison to ship to kids and parents across the nation.

The bookstore is working in partnership with In Purpose Educational Services on the Banned Book Program, a donor-funded campaign that will send a free banned book each month to those who request one, as funding allows. Started just days after a school district in a suburb near St. Louis voted in January to remove copies of “The Bluest Eye” from its libraries, the program has already received over $30,000 from people around the nation. But Missouri residents aren’t the only ones taking action.

As school boards across the United States increasingly vote to remove books from library shelves and classroom curricula, community members are countering by amplifying awareness of those very books. These grassroots efforts – from free book drives to book clubs to lawsuits – differ in method but share a common mission to keep the world of books open for exploration.

Why We Wrote This

Banning books can have unintended consequences. In the United States, one result has been a redoubled effort to ensure those books – and the ideas they express – are freely available.

“If the school doesn’t want to do it [provide challenged books], still push them to do it, but don’t wait for them to do it,” says Jeffrey Blair, co-owner with his wife Pamela Blair, of EyeSeeMe, the bookstore supplying banned books for free each month. “Let’s empower ourselves.”

The Banned Book Program and similar initiatives across the country show “not only how important people think books are, but what people are willing to do… to highlight that book, to protect that book, to get more people to read that book, ” says Kathy M. Newman, an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

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