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In 2021, there were over 1,500 book bans in US school districts, representing over 1,000 unique titles. Targeted books are primarily books by and about people of color (especially by black authors), books with LGBTQ content, and any title that can be construed as promoting social justice.
In response, the Brooklyn Public Library, one of the largest library systems in the United States, launched the Books UnBanned initiative, which allows anyone between the ages of 13 and 21 to obtain a free BPL e-card. , which will give him access to 350,000 ebooks and 200,000 audiobooks, as well as access to databases.
The BPL also offers a selection of frequently disputed books available with no wait times to all BPL cardholders, including The black flamingo by Dean Atta, The bluest eye by Toni Morrison The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, and lawn boy by Jonathan Evison. These ebooks can be read on phones, computers, tablets or e-readers.
Brooklyn Public Library President Linda E. Johnson explained:
“Access to information is the great promise on which public libraries were founded. We cannot sit idly by while books rejected by a few are removed from library shelves for all. Books Not prohibited will act as an antidote to censorship, giving teens and young adults nationwide unlimited access to our vast collection of eBooks and audiobooks, including those that may be banned from their personal libraries.
The card will be valid for one year. (Generally, out-of-state BPL library cards are available for a $50 annual fee, but are waived under this program.) Teens using this card will also be connected to the Teen Council of intellectual freedom from BPL, which provides resources to fight censorship. and the challenges of the book.
The Brooklyn Public Library also invited teens to “share videos, essays and stories about the importance of intellectual freedom and the impact challenges and book bans have had on their lives.”
This is a great resource for teens to get digital access to titles they might otherwise be banned from, although of course it’s just one tool in our anti- censorship. Not all teens have easy access to technology and reliable internet access, and it is extremely important that these books are physically available in school libraries, and not just on a one-to-one basis through bypass.
The Books UnBanned initiative is a great way for teens to temporarily circumvent censorship in their communities, but it’s no replacement for having these books in schools and libraries – it certainly can’t replace a diverse curriculum and inclusive that includes the stories and history of LGBTQ people, people of color, people with disabilities, etc.
I commend the Brooklyn Public Library for using its resources to deal with the wave of book bans in the most extensive way possible for a single institution. It is up to all of us, however, to move the needle in our communities and make initiatives like this pointless, especially since the most vulnerable children and adolescents are likely to have the least access to reliable technology. . And, of course, children 12 and under also deserve to have access to diverse and inclusive literature in their curricula and libraries.
To join the fight against censorship yourself, check out the Anti-Censorship Toolkit. You can also keep up to date with Book Riot’s weekly censorship update, which always includes news and ways to help. The past two years have shown that right-wing groups have come forward in organized and vocal ways to censor books, and we need to be just as organized and vocal in supporting student freedom to read.