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Nashville debuts limited-edition ‘I read banned books’ library card

The Nashville Public Library has announced a new limited-edition library card to promote its Freedom to Read campaign. (Courtesy of Nashville Public Library)

About a week after a Tennessee lawmaker suggested burning banned books, the Nashville Public Library announced a bold campaign encouraging the exact opposite.

This month, Nashville residents can trade in their faded library cards for bright yellow ones with an unapologetic message: “I read banned books.”

The card is part of the library’s Freedom to Read campaign, which encourages autonomy over what patrons choose — or don’t choose — to read.

“This campaign is our way of bringing our community together in our shared Freedom to Read, which is essential to sustaining our democracy,” Kent Oliver, the Nashville Public Library’s director, said in a news release announcing the initiative.

Tennessee lawmaker suggests burning banned books

The cards are only available in May. Oliver said he hopes to distribute 5,000 of them to Davidson County residents.

Tennessee has been a battleground in the recent culture war over books for children and adolescents. In January, the school board in McMinn County, about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville, unanimously voted to ban “Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from the eighth-grade curriculum. Members were concerned the book included inappropriate language, illustrations and subject matter.

In February, the school board in Williamson County, about 21 miles south of Nashville, upheld a ban on “Walk Two Moons,” the 1994 acclaimed novel by Sharon Creech, which centers on a 13-year-old Native American girl. The decision came one month after the county’s chapter of Moms for Liberty, a conservative parent group, suggested the ban.

On April 28, the Tennessee House and Senate agreed on legislation that would give the state increased control over what books are offered in schools. The measure gives a state-run commission the power to institute book bans in public schools and to veto curriculum decisions by school boards. Gov. Bill Lee (R) has not said whether he will sign the bill.

An author was set to read his unicorn book to students. The school forbade it.

The House’s original bill required public school librarians to submit a list of book titles to a state-run committee for approval. During a debate over the legislation last week, Republican state Rep. Jerry Sexton responded to a question from a Democratic colleague about what he would do with the books banned from libraries by saying, “I don’t have a clue, but I would burn them.”

The campaign around Nashville’s new library card is a direct response to an unprecedented number of book bans across the country. According to the American Library Association, the number of books challenged in 2021 was double that of 2020. A survey by the organization found that 71 percent of voters across the political spectrum oppose book bans.

The Nashville Public Library is trying to appeal to those readers. Its website features a list of books that have been prohibited or challenged locally and nationally. Works include “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” by Jill Twiss.

Teens fight for the right to read with ‘banned-book clubs’ and lawsuits

The library card is available to all Davidson County residents, whether they are an existing member or a new one. The campaign ends on May 26, according to the library.