Brooklyn Public Library has issued 5,100 free library cards to make banned books available for teens nationwide

BROOKLYN, NY. — As some public and school libraries pulled books from their shelves earlier this year, the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City made it easier for teenagers across the country to access thousands of books.

In the past few months, the Brooklyn Public Library has given out more than 5,100 free e-library cards to young people across the country, Nick Higgins, the library’s chief librarian, told CNN.

The library launched its Books UnBanned initiative in April to tackle censorship and the growing number of book bans in schools and public libraries.

Since then, readers between the ages of 13 and 21 in every state across the country and in Washington, DC have applied for the e-cards, Higgins said, and an estimated 18,000 e-books or audiobooks have been checked out each month.

“On the one hand, it’s great that we’ve been able to step in and support people in their need with access to robust library holdings, but it’s also really telling that there is a significant censorship effort that many of us across the country are having to band together to keep moving forward” said Higgins.

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Higgins said the library has received hundreds of messages from teenagers and their families, who have shared their gratitude at seeing books being removed from shelves and even the frustration some feel at not having a library in the have near their home.

Due to the success of the initiative, the Brooklyn Public Library plans to run the program indefinitely. Young people will continue to receive their free electronic library card for one year and have the option to renew it, Higgins said.

Cardholders have access to the library’s archive of 350,000 e-books; 200,000 audio books and over 100 databases. The library also offers access to “a selection of frequently challenged books” with no bans or waiting times for cardholders, including ‘The Black Flamingo’ by Dean Atta, ‘Tomboy’ by Liz Prince, ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison, ‘The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison.

As part of the initiative, a group of teens in New York who are members of the library’s Teen Intellectual Freedom Council invited teens who received their electronic cards to a virtual meeting. Now teens in Texas, Alabama and other states meet once a month to discuss censorship and ways to push back in their own communities.

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“It’s really inspiring to see a group of teams connect across state lines just to come together and try to find a common understanding of a particular issue and its implications. That’s what this whole initiative is about,” Higgins said.

An April analysis by PEN America found that from July 31, 2021 to March 31, 2022, more than 1,500 books were banned in 86 school districts. The American Library Association published similar findings, noting that books about LGBTQ and black people were among the most challenged in 2021.

Public libraries have become embroiled in the nationwide debate over what titles people, especially children, have access to, as conservative groups and individuals single out books that deal with race, gender or sexuality.

Like the Brooklyn Public Library, librarians in other parts of the country have done their part to fight back against censorship. In Texas, the Austin Public Library partnered with an independent bookstore and hosted talks and events at library branches, bookstores, and even community parks featuring discussions with authors of banned and contested books and even silly drag queen story hours.

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For the past few weeks, the Louisiana Association of School Librarians has urged members to oppose censorship if they feel comfortable doing so. Amanda Jones, president of the organization and librarian at Livingston Parish Middle School, said members wanted to educate community members about public policy on school libraries and educate them about their work because there was confusion.

“Taking advantage of this lack of knowledge among ordinary people, these marginalized groups use rhetoric such as pornography and erotica to describe books, particularly books on LGBTQ+ issues and books on sexual health written by experts like the American Psychological Association,” said Jones told CNN earlier this month. “They don’t care about the truth.”

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