How independent bookstores can help combat banned books and why it matters

Brookhaven, Georgia – based on the graphic novel by Anne Frank girl’s diary Jan Bolgla is the last book expected to be pulled from public library shelves in 16 years since she and her husband bought a used bookstore full of cats, art and, as of last week, a no-books section .

Bolgla shared the somber observation on the eve of Banned Books Week while petting Big Boo, a Maine coon purring on a glass case full of rare books. Near the store’s entrance is a bookshelf where Bolgla’s sister-in-law, Michele Bolgla, keeps books by Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451George Orwell 1984 and JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Ryeeach of which has been or is currently banned in parts of the United States

She said this is the second year Bolgla and her store are participating in Banned Books Week, which runs from Sept. 18 to Saturday, out of sheer necessity and solidarity.

Bolgla, 66, said: “We really like that books are places for knowledge, sharing knowledge, banning books and censorship are really strong feelings for us.”

“There should be no censorship,” she said. “…Booksellers are lucky because we can sell whatever we want. So we can sell banned books, but what they do with schools and libraries, for the coming generation to come That being said, the inability to experience diversity while seeing it as a bad thing, we strongly don’t think is the right thing to do.”

part of a small rebellion

Bolgla’s bookstore, Atlanta Vintage Books, is one of hundreds of independent bookstores across the country celebrating freedom of reading this week, as schools, universities and public libraries face what experts say are unprecedented attempts to ban or restrict reading material.

The American Library Association said in a press release that the number of book challenges in the United States is on track to exceed the number in 2021.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 this year, the ALA said it recorded 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, targeting 1,651 unique titles. Throughout 2021, the group said, there were 729 attempts to review library resources, targeting 1,597 books — “the most attempts to ban books since the ALA began compiling these lists more than 20 years ago”.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, said independent stores like Bolgla’s are in Texas, South Carolina, Wisconsin where public libraries are under threat of censorship and Georgia, which play a vital role in providing access to physical books.

“Booksellers are committed to free access to information, and they have their own advocacy organizations to protect their freedom to provide information to their communities, to make books available in their communities,” Caldwell-Stone told NPR. “I think booksellers are an important part of the reading and access ecosystem.”

Ray Daniels, chief communications officer for the American Booksellers Association, said Banned Books Week is one of the most important ways to resist attempts to ban books and give a voice to those who have long been marginalized. Daniels told NPR that while the ABA’s 2,000-plus members, spread across 2,500 locations, gained independence, some of them were not immune to scrutiny.

“We’ve heard from our independent bookstore members that attempts of this kind of censorship are spreading to bookstores, with customers complaining that bookstores sell books they don’t like. We firmly believe that bookstores have a right to their bookstore as it looks appropriate,” he said. Say.

Jonathan Friedman, director of the Free Expression and Education Program at PEN America, echoed that concern.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before independent booksellers face more pressure,” Friedman told NPR.

“I think democracy is much more fragile,” he said. “I think protecting the freedoms we have to sell books, buy books, read books, write books, I think these rights are much more fragile than people have thought in recent years and taken for granted. Now we look at when we start to weaken these rights what will happen.”

A lifetime of ink in their veins

every day after purchase Bob Roarty, 69, said the retro Atlanta bookstore was an adventure.

Sometimes these adventures involve holding a first edition signed by James Joyce Finnegans Wakepublished in 1939, while others involved staring at Charles Dickens’ signed copy difficult timespublished in 1854.

Roarty and Bolgla’s love of books has endured for over half a century. The former is a printer and the latter is a designer. At one point, the couple owned a publishing company called Drury Lane Publishers.

“We love books, we love the feel of books. We love the way they are made,” Bolgla said. “We’re avid readers. I think Bob reads fast. I read slow.”

Bolgla said the couple bought the store in 2006 after seeing an ad for sale in a local Atlanta newspaper.They see the store as a way to escape the endless deadlines faced by both parties Bolgla said during their careers.

“We think if we don’t try, we’ll regret it. If we have to sleep in the basement, we sleep in the basement of the store,” Bolgla said. “We all had the same philosophy, liked books, wanted to try. Then moved on to something new. We kind of didn’t know what we were going to do.”

Whatever misgivings the two had once had is no longer obvious. Last year was the best year ever for retro Atlanta bookstores, Bolgla said, and the store is catching up or surpassing that pace this year. For better or worse, Banned Books Week takes that success factor into account, says Michele Bolgla.

“There is so much fear and ignorance in the world right now that the notion of keeping knowledge out of people’s reach is scarier than ever,” she added. “I’m reminded of my favorite quote from one of the most banned authors, Ray Bradbury: ‘You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Make people stop reading them.'”

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