Library celebrates right to read, April 26  

Jose Beduya, Cornell University Library

As part of Cornell’s “Freedom of Expression” theme year, Cornell University Library is holding events throughout the day April 26 to promote diversity of thought and expression found in books of all kinds.   

“The freedom to read is an essential part of a vibrant democracy,” said Elaine Westbrooks, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian. “And it’s essential for a research university to have a library that collects a wide range of materials to support its teaching, research and learning mission, especially in an era when books are being banned and challenged more than we’ve seen before.” 

Carl A. Kroch University Librarian Elaine L. Westbrooks at Mann Library.

“Right to Read: Readathon”  

Excerpts from banned or challenged books will be selected and read aloud by students, staff and faculty members, from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., on the first floor of Mann Library. 

Caroline Apodaca ’25, in the ILR School, will read an excerpt from “Song of Myself” from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” which she encountered in a banned books class during her first year at Cornell.  

ILR School student and Prisoner Express program volunteer Caroline Apodaca ’25 stands at Durland Alternatives Library in front of art works by incarcerated individuals.

“It was the first time poetry made sense to me,” Apodaca said. “It’s interesting that it was banned at one point in time,” she said of its sensuality and homoerotic content, “and it makes me wonder what things are being censored in front of me right now and what I am missing. 

“When you look at the list of books that were banned, especially in recent years, a lot of them are about marginalized populations,” she said. “I think that by reading these books, you’re allowing yourself to empathize with people you would usually not see yourself through.”  

Marla Love, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students, and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, will kick off the readathon, and the full schedule of readers can be viewed at the library blog. Free copies of banned and challenged books will be available at the readathon and in select library locations on campus.  

“Right to Read: A Conversation and Reception”  

From 3 to 4 p.m., in Mann Library 160, a conversation will explore how educational institutions such as libraries address censorship and provide access to books as sources of knowledge, experiences and perspectives.   

Joining Westbrooks for the conversation will be Leslie Tabor, director of Tompkins County Public Library, and Rob Scott, the executive director of the Cornell Prison Education Program and an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  

“Censorship is a significant issue in prisons, particularly for college educators,” Scott said.  

“Cornell is offering a liberal arts curriculum in prison, and the word ‘liberal’ derives from ‘liberty,’” he said. “Our students are trying to learn the art of living in a society that values liberty while they have been denied basic liberties in their daily life. Books, therefore, represent a vital opportunity to connect with the world that they will return to and that they will be expected to succeed in.”  

Edward Mei ’18 assists students in the Cornell Prisoner Education Program’s computer laboratory at the Cayuga Correctional Facility.

The discussion will also be live-streamed, and it will be followed by a reception, from 4 to 5:30, at the Mann Library gallery.  

The “Right to Read” events are free and open to the public. 

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

Additional news from across the university

Recent news from the Library