An unprecedented number of books have been banned and challenged in America in recent years, silencing authors with diverse viewpoints and eliminating the chance for readers to feel seen and represented in their stories. Duval County, FL, is one region at the forefront of this, having banned or challenged over 150 books in local schools over the past two years; however, similar restrictions currently exist in over 30 states across America.
Launched in June as schools were out for summer and created in partnership with Little Free Library, the Unbanned Book Club aims to provide communities in Duval County, FL, access to books currently banned and challenged in the local school systems.
Utilizing Little Free Library’s expansive network of free book exchange boxes, the Unbanned Book Club consists of a collection of custom-branded Little Free Libraries containing banned or challenged books. These titles were generously donated by publishers HarperCollins and Penguin Random House.
The collective goal for this effort is to empower local communities and get as many banned and challenged books back into affected communities as possible while political and legal battles ensue over these issues. Additionally, the goal is that a successful initial launch in Duval County will catalyze more organizations and cities to expand the Unbanned Book Club in their communities until more is done on a federal and state level to eliminate book bans.
The Unbanned Book Club was launched in June with a core guiding mission: When they ban books in schools, we un-ban them in the communities. With schools out for the summer, there was a perfect opportunity for local communities to embrace all literary voices and perspectives.
Initial launch efforts included three custom Unbanned Book Club libraries located in Jacksonville, FL (a major city within Duval County), stocked with 100 books currently banned or challenged in local schools. These libraries are managed in collaboration with 904WARD, a nonprofit organization committed to creating a community of inclusion for all Jacksonville residents.
An additional 200 custom kits, including two banned books for distribution in Little Free Libraries and Unbanned Book Club branded materials, were also made available for Little Free Library's community members, with details posted on LittleFreeLibrary.Org.
HarperCollins and Penguin Random House donated over 700 books free of charge to the Unbanned Book Club, with banned or challenged titles including The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, and New Kid by Jerry Craft.
Additionally, a website (UnbannedBookClub.com) was launched to provide additional information on the effort and enable supporters to purchase their own copies of banned or challenged books, with a portion of the proceeds going to support Little Free Library's mission of expanding book access. Finally, a social media campaign and influencer efforts were deployed to help rally public involvement around the issue and fuel engagement and support of the Unbanned Book Club this summer.
The initial aim for the Unbanned Book Club was to impact a key market heavily affected by banned and challenged books and encourage the local community to take back control of this issue and vital literary content. The team also hoped this initiative would start to create a positive ripple effect beyond Duval County, Florida.
Since its launch in late June, the Unbanned Book has been covered by over 400 news outlets nationwide, including leading literary news publications like the Washington Post Book Club and DEI-focused publications such as Word In Black. The news even caught the attention of an FL Republican Senator who strongly opposed the effort and was quoted in Florida’s Voice, further illustrating the cultural divide and strong need for greater understanding and common ground around this issue.
The Unbanned Book Club sparked interest across the country and outside of its borders. Individuals from over 33 countries visited UnbannedBookClub.com for more information. Among the 200 kits created for the launch, 100 were distributed in Florida and 100 were requested and distributed in 38 states across the US. Additionally, 2000 Little Free Library stewards across the U.S. requested Unbanned Book Club materials, creating demand that far exceeded the initial launch materials and the potential for greater expansion ahead.