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Book Sanctuary Cities

Birds Eye view of book edges

As a bookseller at an indie bookstore, I consider myself knowledgable about the issues facing the book industry and literary issues in our culture at large. However, last week, a colleague shared that Hoboken, New Jersey, was just declared the first Book Sanctuary City in the garden state. I was quite surprised that I had not heard about the concept of Book Sanctuary Cities, and I thought it was both something that I should learn more about personally, and something to share with you.

Taken from the concept of Sanctuary Cities, which declare themselves as places that will protect immigrants by not cooperating with law enforcement's efforts to persecute them, a Book Sanctuary City is declaring themselves as places that will protect books and free speech, despite any wider efforts to ban or censor books.

In 2022, Chicago was the first city to declare itself a Book Sanctuary. I discovered a fascinating 2023 article by Andrew Bauld that shares how different communities are pushing back at restrictions in their state. In particular, Florida has been in the news quite a bit for their efforts to ban or restrict books, and Bauld's article shares how libraries in Broward County have pushed back. Here is a link to the article.

On a smaller scale, yet might in effort, there is also a trend of spaces declaring themselves as book sanctuaries. It's truly something that anyone can do. For example, places like churches, coffee shops, or retail spaces, can dedicate part of their physical space to promote and share vulnerable books. This is grass roots and community based.

The book store where I work, and pretty much every bookstore that I have ever visited (maybe every single one) has a year-round banned books display. Sure, it sells books and the store makes money, but it is truly more about educating the public. It always prompts important discussions amongst staff and customers.

Here is the website for The Book Sanctuary. They also sell some fun merch to show your support for their mission.

Do you live in a book sanctuary city or do you have a small book sanctuary space in your community?

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