July 17, 2023
Barack Obama © Pari Dukovic. READ Image © Medium.com
Today, July 17, Barack Obama published a letter he wrote to America’s librarians. He shares with readers how books have shaped his life and notes that the effort to ban books today is an attempt to silence voices. In the letter, Obama thanks the nation’s librarians who are on the front line defending our freedom to read and encourages citizens to join him in reminding others that “the free, robust exchange of ideas has always been at the heart of American democracy.”
You can find the letter on Barack Obama’s Twitter, Instagram and on Medium.
Or, you may read the letter in its entirety below.
"To the dedicated and hardworking librarians of America:
In any democracy, the free exchange of ideas is an important part of making sure that citizens are informed, engaged and feel like their perspectives matter.
It’s so important, in fact, that here in America, the First Amendment of our Constitution states that freedom begins with our capacity to share and access ideas – even, and maybe especially, the ones we disagree with.
More often than not, someone decides to write those ideas down in a book.
Books have always shaped how I experience the world. Writers like Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin taught me something essential about our country’s character. Reading about people whose lives were very different from mine showed me how to step into someone else’s shoes. And the simple act of writing helped me develop my own identity — all of which would prove vital as a citizen, as a community organizer, and as president.
Today, 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 color, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community – though there have also been unfortunate instances in which books by conservative authors or books containing “triggering” words or scenes have been targets for removal. Either way, the impulse seems to be to silence, rather than engage, rebut, learn from or seek to understand views that don’t fit our own.
I believe such an approach is profoundly misguided, and contrary to what has made this country great. As I’ve said before, not only is it important for young people from all walks of life to see themselves represented in the pages of books, but it’s also important for all of us to engage with different ideas and points of view.
It’s also important to understand that the world is watching. If America – a nation built on freedom of expression – allows certain voices and ideas to be silenced, why should other countries go out of their way to protect them? Ironically, it is Christian and other religious texts – the sacred texts that some calling for book bannings in this country claim to want to defend – that have often been the first target of censorship and book banning efforts in authoritarian countries.
Nobody understands that more than you, our nation’s librarians. In a very real sense, you’re on the front lines – fighting every day to make the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas available to everyone. Your dedication and professional expertise allow us to freely read and consider information and ideas, and decide for ourselves which ones we agree with.
That’s why I want to take a moment to thank all of you for the work you do every day — work that is helping us understand each other and embrace our shared humanity.
And it’s not just about books. You also provide spaces where people can come together, share ideas, participate in community programs, and access essential civic and educational resources. Together, you help people become informed and active citizens, capable of making this country what they want it to be.
And you do it all in a harsh political climate where, all too often, you’re attacked by people who either cannot or will not understand the vital – and uniquely American – role you play in the life of our nation.
So whether you just started working at a school or public library, or you’ve been there your entire career, Michelle and I want to thank you for your unwavering commitment to the freedom to read. All of us owe you a debt of gratitude for making sure readers across the country have access to a wide range of books, and all the ideas they contain.
Finally, to every citizen reading this, I hope you’ll join me in reminding anyone who will listen — and even some people you think might not — that the free, robust exchange of ideas has always been at the heart of American democracy. Together, we can make that true for generations to come.
June 26, 2023
Yesterday, June 25, Penguin Random House was proud to join the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association and millions of other Americans who believe in the freedom to read and publish by joining the historic #FreedomToRead campaign, in which Americans are standing united together against book bans.
You can read the full release below and or you can visit the ALA website here to take action and sign on to support the freedom to read.
Association of American Publishers and American Library Association Reaffirm 1953 Freedom to Read Statement, Joined by the Authors Guild and American Booksellers Association
As censorship threats continue to target libraries, schools, publishers, authors, and booksellers, the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) are calling on all members of the book community to affirm their commitment to the Freedom to Read Statement on its 70th anniversary. They are joined by the Authors Guild and American Booksellers Association as well as numerous other signatories.
First published on June 25, 1953, the Freedom to Read Statement begins with this timeless observation: The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack.
And the freedom to read continues to be threatened. In the past year, more than 60 state bills have been introduced that would restrict or chill what Americans may read. Many of these efforts are unquestionably unconstitutional and would impair the First Amendment rights of readers of all ages.
Following are joint remarks from Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of the American Library Association; Allison K Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association; Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; and Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild:
“Seventy years ago, fear, suspicion, and suppression fueled by McCarthyism was at a fever pitch—a serious situation that required a robust and vigorous affirmation of intellectual freedom and the constitutional protections that protect it. Today, as we grapple with a new wave of censorship in schools, libraries, and bookstores targeting a wide range of expression, including fiction and nonfiction, the Freedom to Read Statement remains an important defense of the freedom to write, publish and inquire.
“Our democracy is based on the belief that every person’s right to read is indispensable to their personal and political happiness. This fact is indisputable. American democracy has always depended on the lawful dissemination and rigorous protection of speech—from all political quarters and all personal perspectives, both old and new ideas.
“To be clear, not every expression of authorship will withstand the rigorous and sustained scrutiny of the marketplace of ideas, but our free society requires that we have the right to make up our own minds about what we choose to read and what we think of what we’ve read. As our predecessors stated in 1953, “Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.”
“As we celebrate this anniversary, we are mindful not only of the rights of readers, but of the nation’s authors, publishing houses, bookstores, and libraries, whose missions both reflect and are in service to our free society.”
Again, we invite you to pledge your support at UniteAgainstBookBans.org
May 8, 2018
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is a lawyer, author, and the wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama. Through her initiatives as First Lady, she has become a role model for women and girls, and an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education. She will appear at the opening general session of the 2018 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference and Exhibition on Friday, June 22, 4:00—5:30 pm, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Her appearance at the conference is sponsored by Penguin Random House.
[caption id="attachment_112390" align="alignright" width="214"]
Michelle Obama, Credit David Slijper[/caption]
Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s much-anticipated memoir, BECOMING,
will be published in the U.S. and Canada on November 13, 2018, by Crown
, and will be released simultaneously in 24 languages. Considered one of the most popular First Ladies of recent times, Mrs. Obama in her book invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. Warm, wise, and revelatory, BECOMING is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Michelle Obama has described writing BECOMING as “a deeply personal experience. It has allowed me, for the very first time, the space to honestly reflect on the unexpected trajectory of my life. I hope my journey inspires readers to find the courage to become whoever they aspire to be. I can’t wait to share my story
A product of Chicago public schools, Obama studied sociology and African-American studies at Princeton University and is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Mrs. Obama started her career as an attorney at the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she met her future husband, Barack Obama. She later worked in the Chicago mayor’s office, at the University of Chicago, and at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Mrs. Obama also founded the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an organization that prepares young people for careers in public service.
For more information, visit the ALA Conference website
February 12, 2018
Continuing our coverage of this year’s American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting award winners and honorees:
Michael L. Printz Award Winner
WE ARE OKAY
by Nina La Cour (Dutton Books for Young Readers
The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens.
Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent Winner
THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET
by David Barclay Moore (Knopf Books for Young Readers
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards are given to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Award Winner
The Wilder Award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.
Schneider Family Book Award Winner
YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE
by Whitney Gardner (Knopf Books for Young Readers
The Schneider Family Book Award is for the title that best embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience.
Mildred L. Batchelder Award Winner
THE MURDERER’S APE
by Jakob Wegelius, translated by Peter Graves (Delacorte Press
The Mildred L. Batchelder Award is for the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English.
William C. Morris Award Finalist
by Nic Stone (Crown Books for Young Readers
The William C. Morris Award recognizes a debut title by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.
Pura Belpré Medal Author
LUCKY BROKEN GIRL
by Ruth Behar (Nancy Paulsen Books
Pura Belpré Medal Illustrator
LA PRINCESA AND THE PEA
by Juana Martinez-Neal (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Pura Belpré Honor Authors
FIRST RULE OF PUNK
by Celia C. Pérez (Viking Books for Young Readers
THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA
by Pablo Cartaya (Viking Books for Young Readers
The Pura Belpré awards, medals and honors are presented to Latino/Latina writers and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.
: Our ALA Midwinter Award Recipients, Part One: Odyssey, RUSA Listen Audio Winners
More ALA Awards news to come.