Opinion

America’s Top Librarian on the Rise of Book Bans

Produced by ‘The Ezra Klein Show’

Public libraries around the country have become major battlegrounds for today’s culture wars. In 2022, the American Library Association noted a record 1,269 attempts at censorship — almost double the number recorded in 2021. Library events like drag story times and other children’s programming have also attracted protest. How should we understand these efforts to control what stories children can freely access?

Emily Drabinski is the president of the American Library Association and an associate professor at the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. She is steering an embattled organization at a moment when libraries — and librarians themselves — are increasingly under fire.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio App, Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

This conversation unpacks the political and cultural anxieties fueling the attacks on libraries. The guest host Tressie McMillan Cottom discusses with Drabinski how libraries are a bulwark against the increasing class divides of American life, how the “small infrastructure” of the public library differs from big infrastructure like highways and bridges, how library classification systems can entrench the status quo, the parallels between political attacks on the library and the U.S. Postal Service, how censorship attempts fit in the broader landscape of anti-queer and anti-trans legislation and much more.

This episode was hosted by Tressie McMillan Cottom, a columnist for Times Opinion, a professor at U.N.C. Chapel Hill and the author of “Thick: And Other Essays.” Cottom also writes a newsletter for Times Opinion that offers a sociologist’s perspective on culture, politics and the economics of our everyday lives.

You can listen to our whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on the NYT Audio App, Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. View a list of book recommendations from our guests here.

(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)

Credit…Courtesy of Emily Drabinski

This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Emefa Agawu. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our senior engineer is Jeff Geld. Our senior editor is Annie-Rose Strasser. The show’s production team also includes Rollin Hu and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Sonia Herrero.

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