The New York Public Library makes four banned books free nationwide on its e-reader app

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The New York Public Library made four banned books available nationwide on SimplyE, its free-reader app. The titles include Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The library worked in coordination with the publishers and authors to make the titles available to the public for free, with no wait times or download limits. Normally publishers allow libraries to only lend out e-books to a single person at a time, often leading to long hold times at public libraries.

While the titles are only available for a month (the titles will disappear by the end of May), interested readers don’t need to hold an NYPL library card or live in the region. The books will be released through NYPL’s “Books For All” program, which makes hundreds of titles in the public domain available to anyone nationwide.

The NYPL has voiced its opposition to a recent spike in book banning across school districts nationwide, largely driven by conservative activists groups. Over the last nine months, more than 1,000 books have been banned or temporarily pulled from school districts, according to a report PEN America released this week.

“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,” said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx.

The 1999 young adult novel Speak, about a ninth grade girl who has refused to talk since being raped at a party, is included in ALA’s list of 100 most challenged books between 2000 and 2009. Parents often voice opposition to its graphic, sexual content. King and the Dragonflies, about a middle school boy who struggles with the loss of his brother and his sexual identity, is the winner of the 2020 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, was flagged for removal in Keller, Texas. Stamped was challenged by parents in Round Rock, Texas last year, in part due to a tweet by by its author that criticized then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Angela Montefinise, vice-president of communications and marketing, told Engadget in an email that the SimplyE app had to increase its server capacity three times today to account for the spike in downloads. Currently there are no future plans to release any more banned titles on the app.

“At this point we’re not planning to release more books as part of this project, but we’ll see how things go,” wrote Montefinise in an email.