James Patterson on Libraries, Librarians, and Book Bans

The bestselling author spoke with AL at Annual

June 26, 2023

James Patterson.
James Patterson Photo: Stephanie Diani

Very few people who work in libraries—or who have seen a public library bookshelf—will be unfamiliar with the name of bestselling author James Patterson, whose books have sold more than 425 million copies.

Patterson’s upcoming book, The Secret Lives of Booksellers and Librarians: True Stories of the Magic of Reading (Little, Brown, 2024), shares stories from dozens of librarians and booksellers. But he attended American Library Association’s 2023 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago largely in support of Amina Luqman-Dawson, whose Freewater won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author award this year, and which was published by Patterson’s imprint, JIMMY Patterson Books.

“This is Amina’s day and night, but it’s little like when you’ve been a producer for something and it wins the Academy Award, and you get to stand in the background on the stage and feel great,” he said in an interview with American Libraries at the conference.

Patterson said his goal with the imprint was to share well-written stories that would make kids ask for another book. The current wave of book challenges and bans runs counter to that. “This is a bad direction,” he declared. His Maximum Ride series has been removed from one school district in Florida, and while for him “that’s not the end of the world, it’s just dumb.” He particularly took umbrage with the notion that an individual person could get a large number of books banned without even reading them.

Patterson’s affection for libraries dates back to his early days. “My mother was a teacher, and then on the weekend she worked in the library at Newburgh (New York), and she would drag us to the library on Saturdays.” Patterson recalled. “Not necessarily where we wanted to go, but it was cool and I got into reading early.”

The book about librarians and booksellers is an effort “to tell each person’s story in a very compelling way,” he said. “People that don’t understand. ‘Shh!’—that’s their idea, the stereotype from God knows when. One of the big things that people don’t understand is the passion for reading and books that so many librarians and booksellers have.”

Today, proceeds from JIMMY Patterson Books support literacy initiatives, with about $120 million donated so far. Projects he has supported include scholarships for students who want to become teachers, the University of Iowa writing program, and scholarships to historically Black colleges and universities.


Children’s book author and poet Nikki Grimes at the American Library Association’s 2023 Annual Conference and Exhibition on June 24.

Completing the Walk

Author Nikki Grimes and illustrator Brian Pinkney honor the late Jerry Pinkney

Jeanie Austin speaks at a podium during a session at ALA's Annual Conference and Exhibition.

Setting the Standards

Library workers discuss improving access for incarcerated people