New York

How Libraries Are Fighting Book Banning

Good morning. It’s Thursday. We’ll see what libraries in New York City are doing to fight book banning. We’ll also see what Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who has sent buses of migrants to New York, said during a visit to the city.

Credit…Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

“The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack.”

That line came from a statement issued by the American Library Association — not yesterday or last week, but in 1953.

Still, it seemed unusually timely after last week, when there was a bomb threat to a library in Brooklyn and a report from the American Library Association described a troubling increase in efforts to remove books from libraries nationally.

It was also timely because Banned Books Week begins on Sunday. All three library systems in the city have designated Wednesday as “Freedom to Read Digital Day of Action” and will encourage people to post images of their favorite books online.

Beyond that, the New York Public Library, with branches in Manhattan and the Bronx and on Staten Island, will begin a campaign called “Books for All” that will run through June. The library says it will be the longest anti-censorship effort in its 128 years and will include a “teen banned book club” with unlimited access to some young adult titles that have been challenged or banned.

“We know that stories are powerful and can shape our lives,” said Anthony Marx, the president of the New York Public Library, “but unlike advocates of book banning, we believe that’s a good thing and that free people have the right to choose for themselves.”

The Brooklyn Public Library, which last year began “Books Unbanned” to reach readers in places where restrictions might force books off library shelves and out of classrooms, is starting a podcast called “Borrowed and Banned.” In seven episodes, it will address “the ideological wars Americans are having with their bookshelves,” the library says.

The Queens Public Library will post decals that say “All Books Are Welcome Here” at library entrances and has scheduled online talks with Samira Ahmed and Phil Blinder, two authors whose books have been challenged or banned.

And with 826 National, a nonprofit group that helps children and teenagers improve their writing skills, the New York Public Library is seeking submissions for a teen writing contest. The contest question asks what the freedom to read means. There will be a $500 grand prize, with 20 additional prizes of $250 each.

The incident in Brooklyn began with 911 call on Saturday morning that said an explosive device would go off in the Cortelyou Library in Flatbush, which was scheduled to hold a drag story hour session. About 12 children and their parents were on hand, a spokeswoman for the library said.

The library’s public safety officers and the police evacuated the building, and the police “swept the building and did not find anything,” she said. The librarians moved the event to a bakery and cafe nearby.

The incident prompted Letitia James, the state attorney general, to comment on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, that “our families go to Drag Story Hours to have fun and get our kids excited about reading.” She said that “terrorizing them with bomb threats is disgusting.”

Dennis Walcott, the president and chief executive of the Queens Public Library, said there have been repeated attempts to disrupt drag story hours “to stop certain voices from being heard.” “I’ve been in the middle of aggressive protests outside our libraries where we’ve had them,” he said, “and then gone inside and experienced the beauty of acceptance as kids and families listen to the stories.”

Nationally, efforts to ban books have moved from school to public libraries in the last year. The American Library Association said that nearly half the book challenges it tracked between January and August of this year involved public libraries, up 16 percent from the same period last year. The library association said there were 19 attempts to restrict access to books in New York State involving 45 titles between January and August. The most challenged title was “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe.

The Brooklyn library’s “Books Unbanned” program continues to offer free library cards. So far 7,000 teens from all 50 states have requested them.

The “Borrowed and Banned” podcast will feature interviews with authors like George M. Johnson, who wrote “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” the second most frequently challenged book in 2022, according to the library association. In a preview of the podcast, he mentioned challenges to writers like Toni Morrison.

“You don’t ban Toni Morrison unless you are trying to prevent people from understanding a very profound truth that they need to understand,” he said.


Weather

Expect a mostly cloudy day, with a high near 65. At night, a chance of showers, with a low of 59.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Saturday (Sukkot).


The latest Metro news

Credit…Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times

Menendez

  • Senator and his wife are charged: Robert Menendez and his wife, Nadine, were charged in what federal prosecutors say was a yearslong scheme. They entered not guilty pleas Wednesday in Manhattan.

  • Menendez profile: The New Jersey Democrat broke barriers for Latinos. But prosecutors circled for decades before charging him with an explosive new bribery plot.

Trump

  • Ruling: Lawyers for former President Donald Trump and New York State began sorting through the real-world meaning of Justice Arthur Engoron’s finding that Trump had inflated the value of his holdings.

  • Takeaways: The judge’s finding that the former president committed fraud has major implications for his businesses, but Trump still has cards left to play. The ruling also undermined the narrative of the business career that launched Trump in politics.

More local news

  • Juilliard for free: Starting in the next academic year, the Juilliard School in Manhattan will make its graduate acting program tuition-free.

  • Store closures: Target announced that it was closing nine stores in four states, including one in Harlem, saying theft was threatening the safety of employees and customers — and hurting its business.


What the Texas governor said about New York

Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

Mayor Eric Adams has called Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas — who has sent buses of migrants to New York City in the last year — “a madman” whose actions were “morally bankrupt.” Adams has also said the migrant crisis “will destroy New York City.”

Abbott was in New York on Wednesday and made unexpected comments about the city. The migrant influx in New York is “calm and organized,” Abbott said, compared with his own state. “We have crime taking place in ways you don’t see in New York,” he said, without elaborating.

Adams has called Abbott’s tactics in sending migrants to New York “inhumane.” My colleague Claire Fahy writes that Abbott, in an appearance organized by the Manhattan Institute, did not directly address the mayor’s characterization, even as he acknowledged sending 15,800 migrants to New York, about 10 percent of the nearly 120,000 who have arrived in the city in the past 12 months.

But the governor maintained that he was not the problem. “The lead importer of migrants to New York is not Texas,” said Abbott, a Republican. “It’s Joe Biden.”

Adams, for his part, has faulted the White House for not doing more to provide aid to the city and has said the president is “failing” New York City. When Biden was in New York last week for the United Nations General Assembly, he and the mayor did not cross paths. The mayor did not attend a reception hosted by the president at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The White House later announced that would grant a special status to Venezuelan migrants so they could apply for jobs, something the mayor and Gov. Kathy Hochul had been calling for but not the immigration policy change Abbott had in mind.

“There probably could not be a worse strategy, a worse policy than temporary protected status,” Mr. Abbott said. “Temporary protected status leads to permanent magnet status. They’ll be attracting millions and more people to come to this country illegally.”


METROPOLITAN diary

Tender buttons

Dear Diary:

In the 1970s, my side gig was producing handmade cards. In making them, I loved to use rare vintage buttons from Tender Buttons, a world-class shop on East 62nd Street.

In those days, the card buyer for Bloomingdale’s held an open call for budding artists on Thursdays. One day I went.

“OK, honey,” the card buyer said. “Show me what you’ve got.”

With my hands shaking, I held out three cards featuring vintage airplane, tricycle and sailboat buttons from Tender Buttons.

“That’s it — all you’ve got?” the buyer said. “I need a display. Pull yourself together and make a line of 12 designs. I need a dozen each by Monday at noon.”

I stayed awake from Thursday until Monday and delivered 144 cards on time.

— Susan Hamilton

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.


Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Bernard Mokam and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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