A Better World Is Possible:  Brooklyn Public Library Combats Book Bans By Offering A Free Library Card To Every Teen In America

Photo: Andrei Metelev / istock.

Librarians and Teen Volunteers Spearhead Books UnBanned Initiative to Combat Censorship

Source:  Brooklyn Public Library

This story really gave me a lift.  In the face of the dispiriting national frenzy to ban booksburn books, prohibit teaching about race and gender and sexuality, and curtail free speech, the Brooklyn Public Library has come up with an elegant and widely impactful response – offering a free digital library card to every teen in American. The story was apparently inspiring to others as well as it was picked up by a number of national media outlets (see e.g. stories from  NPR,and CNN). And the New York Public Library,  in collaboration with Hachette, MacMillan and Scholastic publishers has since created a program extending free digital access to frequently banned books.


Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) has launched a new campaign , titled Books UnBanned, to help teens combat the negative impact of increased censorship and book bans in libraries across the country. For a limited time, young adults ages 13 to 21 nationwide, will be able to apply for a free eCard from BPL, unlocking access to the library’s extensive collection of eBooks.

“Access to information is the great promise upon which public libraries were founded,” said Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO, Brooklyn Public Library. “We cannot sit idly by while books rejected by a few are removed from the library shelves for all. Books UnBanned will act as an antidote to censorship, offering teens and young adults across the country unlimited access to our extensive collection of ebooks and audiobooks, including those which may be banned in their home libraries.”

The card will be good for one year and is designed to complement access to resources for teens in their local communities. The Brooklyn Public Library eCard provides access to 350,00 e-books; 200,000 audiobooks and over 100 databases. Teens will also be connected to their peers in Brooklyn, including members of BPL’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council, to help one another with information and resources to fight censorship, book recommendations and the defense of freedom to read.

To apply for the card, teens can send a note to BooksUnbanned@bklynlibrary.org, or via the Library’s s teen-run Instagram account, @bklynfuture. The $50 fee normally associated with out-of-state cards will be waived. Teens are encouraged to share videos, essays, and stories on the importance of intellectual freedom and the impact that book challenges and bans have had on their lives. 

The library will also make a selection of frequently challenged books available with no holds or wait times for all BPL cardholders, available through the library’s online catalog or Libby app. The titles include: 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

While challenges to books and ideas are nothing new, the initiative was conceived in response to an increasingly coordinated and effective effort to remove books tackling a wide range of topics from library shelves. The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom counted more than 700 complaints last year, the most since it began keeping records more than 20 years ago.  

In Texas, Matt Krause, chairman of the Texas House of Representatives General Investigating Committee, has called for public school libraries to “account” for 850 sexually explicit or racially preferential books. The list includes a wide range of titles from National Book Award winner How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi to John Irving’s bestselling Cider House Rules. Books which feature LBGQT characters; advice for dealing with bullies; and tips for teens on relationships are all included on the list, along with titles on historical events including the rise of the KKK, the Indian Removal Act and the election of Harvey Milk. 

Book Riot reports that Moms for Liberty, a conservative group with 70,000 members nationwide has a new initiative titled Moms for Libraries which aims to have books exploring sexual identity and racial polarization removed from the shelves of local libraries.

In Tennessee, the McMinn County School Board voted to remove the reading of Maus, an award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from the eighth-grade curriculum. In Llano County, Texas, a librarian was fired after she refused to follow instructions to remove books, including one about a teen who identified as transgender. Lawmakers in Indiana had been considering a bill that would allow librarians to be jailed for inappropriate content.

Locally, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) removed a tweet by the New York State Librarian after she recommended the book Gender Queer: A Memoir. NYSED said it was not aware of the graphic contents in the book. 

“Brooklyn Public Library stands firmly against censorship and for the principles of intellectual freedom—the right of every individual to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction,” said Nick Higgins, Chief Librarian. “Limiting access or providing one-sided information is a threat to democracy itself.”

Young adults in Brooklyn who are interested in joining BPL’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council can learn more here.

About Brooklyn Public Library
Brooklyn Public Library is one of the nation’s largest library systems and among New York City’s most democratic institutions. As a leader in developing modern 21st-century libraries, we provide resources to support personal advancement, foster civic literacy, and strengthen the fabric of community among the more than 2.7 million individuals who call Brooklyn home. We provide nearly 60,000 free programs a year with writers, thinkers, artists, and educators—from around the corner and around the world. And we give patrons millions of opportunities to enjoy one of life’s greatest satisfactions: the joy of a good book. 

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