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Queens Public Library launches Banned Books Week celebrating freedom to read

Sep. 29, 2023 By Bill Parry

Queens Public Library (QPL) will defend the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, Oct. 1-7, through a series of events and activities recognizing the stories, voices and titles threatened by censorship across the nation.

QPL will also raise public awareness through large graphics at the entrance of every location with the message, “All Books Are Welcome Here. Protect the Freedom to Read.”

The initiative comes at a time when book bans and challenges have been rising sharply across America, putting libraries on the frontlines of protecting the freedom to read. Although such book bans are currently not happening in New York City, libraries across the five boroughs have seen aggressive attempts to shut down Drag Story Hours.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), the number of requests to ban books is the highest since the organization began compiling the data more than 20 years ago. Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2023, ALA reported 695 attempts to censor library materials and services and documented challenges to 1,915 unique titles — a 20% increase from the same reporting period in 2022. Most of the targeted titles were by or about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.

This banned books display can be seen at QPL’s Woodside branch on Skillman Avenue. Courtesy of QPL

“The recent increase in book challenges and bans — overwhelmingly targeting titles by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQ+ community — exemplifies dangerous attempts to whitewash history and silence marginalized voices, ultimately threatening our democracy,” QPL President and CEO Dennis Walcott said. “Queens Public Library stands firm in our commitment to protect the freedom to read, while ensuring open access to diverse viewpoints and ideas. All books are welcome here.”

As part of Banned Books Week, Queens Public Library is teaming up with Brooklyn Public Library and The New York Public Library for a citywide digital Day of Action on Wednesday, Oct. 4, encouraging New Yorkers to use various social media channels to show that their city abhors censorship in all forms. That day, people can unite against book bans and show their support for libraries by using the hashtag #FreedomToRead and sharing why unfettered access to books, information, and knowledge is important to them. They are also invited to photograph and post a book that is meaningful to them.

In anticipation of this citywide initiative, QPL’s Fresh Meadows Library, at 193-20 Horace Harding Expressway, will also hold its own Banned Books Day of Action on Tuesday, Oct. 3, from 3 to 5 p.m. Participants will learn about the current increases in challenges and banning of books across the country, while writing postcards or letters to authors facing challenges and checking out banned books.

Other QPL programming highlights during this Banned Books Week include “Quieting Queer Reads: A History of LGBTQ+ Book Bans In The U.S.,” a virtual conversation organized in partnership with the American LGBTQ+ Museum, on Wednesday, Oct. 4, from 5 to 7 p.m. Authors Corey Silverberg, Brenda Bowen, Maya Gonzalez, Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz and QPL Librarian Asher MacInnis-Call will discuss the history of book banning in the U.S. and the impact of censorship and erasure on LGBTQ+ youth.

On Saturday, Oct. 7, at 2 p.m., the performance-based literacy program Literature to Life will present “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury at Forest Hills Library, located at 108-19 71st Ave. Its terrifyingly recognizable vision features Guy Montag, a “fireman” who, instead of putting out fires, starts them in order to burn books. There will be a discussion following the performance.

Also on Saturday, Oct. 7, from noon to 3 p.m. (or while supplies last), the Friends of Ridgewood Library will honor Banned Books Week with a free book giveaway at the branch, located at 20-12 Madison St., distributing more than 400 banned books for children and teenagers. The same branch is also inviting readers throughout the week to go on a “blind date with a banned book.” People will be able to check out books completely wrapped in brown paper, but notes written on the front will explain why they were placed on the banned list.

Corona Library, located at 38-23 104th St., will throw a Banned Books Party on Friday, Oct. 6, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., inviting people to discuss their favorite banned books while dressing up as their favorite banned book character and taking pictures with fun props and backgrounds.

On Monday, Oct. 2, Wednesday, Oct. 4, and Friday, Oct. 6, from 4 to 4:45 p.m., customers at Arverne Library — located at 312 Beach 54 St. — can contribute to creating a mural of banned books made with various objects and pen-and-ink collage as part of “Make-A-Mural: Banned Books Story” program.

On Thursday, Oct. 5, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., library goers can read excerpts from their favorite banned book and share their thoughts about why it resonates with them during Banned Books Open Mic at Peninsula Library, located at 92-25 Rockaway Beach Blvd.

Additionally, a virtual literature-focused discussion group, run by QPL’s Mail-A-Book program, will focus its fall programming on banned books with “The Storyteller” by Jodi Piccoult scheduled to be discussed on Thursday, Oct. 26, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee on Thursday, Nov. 30 and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison on Thursday, Dec. 28. Each program will take place from 11 a.m. to noon.

Many of the banned or challenged books have been made into films. Throughout the week, a number of QPL locations across the borough will screen some of those movies, followed by librarian-led discussions, including: “The Hate U Give” based on a book by Angie Thomas, at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5, at Fresh Meadows Library and “The Kite Runner” inspired by a novel by Khaled Hosseini on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 12 PM at Far Rockaway Library, located at 1003 Beach 20th St.

As part of Banned Books Week, all branches will be distributing banned books buttons, and QPL librarians have curated lists of the most popular banned and challenged books. To learn more about other QPL Banned Books Week events and activities, visit queenslib.org/FreedomtoRead.

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