Former President Barack Obama spoke out Monday against the rising number of book bans in American schools and libraries as “contrary to what has made this country great” and appeared in an Illinois public library’s TikTok video.
In a statement he shared on social media, Obama lauded “the dedicated and hardworking librarians of America” for working “on the front lines” against the book-ban movement despite attacks from those “who either cannot or will not understand the vital — and uniquely American — role you play in the life of our nation.”
Books allow readers, he said, to “experience the world,” “step into someone else’s shoes” and “engage with different ideas and points of view. Their access is also essential to First Amendment freedoms.”
“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,” Obama wrote. “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.”
The former president also appeared in a TikTok video shared by the Kankakee Public Library, located southwest of Chicago, on Monday.
In it, people read books including Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give” before Obama appears, reading from his own stack of books while he sips from a Kankakee Public Library coffee mug.
Obama also appeared in a TikTok video for Texas’ Harris County Public Library system, The Washington Post reported. Texas has led the nation in book ban requests in schools, according to a tally last year by the free speech advocacy group PEN America.
Libraries across the country have increasingly experienced threats of violence and acts of intimidation amid the rising political efforts to censor their reading materials.
The American Library Association reported in March that the number of demands to censor books in libraries hit a record high of 1,269 demands last year. This was nearly double the 729 challenges reported in 2021, the organization said.
The vast majority of the targeted books were by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color, the ALA said.
“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,” Obama said.