Graphic of a smartphone with the Banned Book Club logo, which features thick black lines like redacted text, with rows of book covers in the background

New initiative releases America’s banned books to the public

Using geo-targeting, the Banned Book Club allows communities in which books have been taken off the shelves to access them for free

According to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, a total of 2,571 unique book titles were banned or challenged in the US in 2022 alone. This was up 40% from 2021, with most of the bans and challenges listing issues of race, gender or sexuality as their reasoning.

Speaking in an interview with NPR in 2023, Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada, president of the American Library Association, said: “We’re seeing organised attempts by groups to censor multiple titles throughout the country without actually having read many of these books.”

FCB Chicago has collaborated with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) – a platform that brings together the extensive collections of America’s libraries, museums and archives – on launching a new initiative that hopes to confront the problem.

Concerned about the threat to freedom posed by the banning of books, the Banned Book Club is making these publications available for free through the e-reader app Palace. It uses GPS-based geo-targeting to localise which books to make available, so when a user is based near a library that has banned one or more of them, they can visit the initiative’s website to see specifically which titles have been banned, and are given the option to download them for free.

Graphic shows the Banned Book Club wordmark featuring thick lines like redacted text, next to a QR code, and the headline 'Let freedom read'

“At DPLA, our mission is to ensure access to knowledge for all and we believe in the power of technology to further that access,” said John S Bracken, executive director of Digital Public Library of America. “We have created the Banned Book Club to leverage the dual powers of libraries and digital technology to ensure that every American can access the books they want to read.”

Initiatives like the Banned Book Club are integral in ensuring that every person has the right to choose and read the books that interest them, and these efforts have seen widespread backing in recent months.

Barack Obama has even voiced his support for the cause, saying, “Some of the books that shaped my life – and the lives of so many others – are being challenged by people who disagree with certain ideas or perspectives…. It’s no coincidence that these ‘banned books’ are often written by or feature people of colour, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”