At this week’s Frankfurt Book Fair, Publishers Weekly asked Richard Ovenden, director of the Bodleian Libraries of Oxford University and author of Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge (2020) for his take on book banning in America.

The surge in book banning today has been described as unprecedented. But as somebody who studies the history of book banning and destruction of knowledge, is it?

Absolutely, yes, I think it is unprecedented. In the last year or two I’ve seen a distinct change in how access to knowledge or ideas has become weaponized. Books have become a new battleground with librarians in the frontline trenches. And I struggle to draw a historical comparison because this is quite a unique set of circumstances. Books and libraries have become a focal point in a culture war that falls within the framework of a broader political battle. But there is a reason the focus is on libraries, I think—I have been telling my colleagues in the profession that it’s evidence that we’re doing a good job. They wouldn’t be attacking us if we weren’t connecting people with knowledge and with ideas.