Over the past few months, books found in libraries have become the target of a culture war. As book bans have taken hold — the American Library Association found that there were more book ban attempts in 2021 since the organization began tracking ban attempts 20 years ago — parent activists have attempted to pull books they believe are inappropriate for their kids. Mainly, this has resulted in books with LGBTQIA+ subjects or titles, or books that touch on BIPOC issues being banned across the country. Classics like Maus and The Bluest Eye, often a common curriculum text for appropriate aged students, are now deemed unsafe. And while books are being censored nationwide, librarians at one library, in particular, are hitting back at the censorship and bans with a smart new program that can benefit kids nationwide as long as they’re 13 or older.
The Brooklyn Public Library announced a new program called Books Unbanned. The new program will focus on combatting suppression and censorship of book titles based on the topics being discussed or the storylines therein. Through the program, students between the ages of 13 and 21 in the United States can apply for a free Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) eCard. You don’t have to live in the state to access 350,000 ebooks, 200,000 audiobooks, and numerous online databases – which opens the opportunity for teens to access book titles that have been banned elsewhere.
The library “is adding our voice to those fighting for the rights of teens nationwide to read what they like, discover themselves, and form their own opinion,” a statement read. “Inspired by the American Library Association (ALA)’s Freedom to Read Statement, BPL’s Books Unbanned initiative is a response to an increasingly coordinated and effective effort to remove books tackling a wide range of topics from library shelves.”
The ALA recently reported 729 “challenges to library, school and university materials and services” happened in 2021 alone. This resulted in “more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. The majority of these banned book titles were for teenagers and were written for or by LGBTQIA+ or Black persons. “This represents the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling these lists 20 years ago,” the report shows.
An overwhelming number of adults in the US don’t support the school boards banning books across the country. A survey done earlier this year from CBS News in conjunction with YouGov shows that more than eight in 10 people don’t think books should be banned from schools if the books discuss race, slavery, or criticize the history of the United States.
In addition to the free library card, teens who live in New York City can join BPL’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council, which meets virtually for an hour every month. Together the council will discuss the book challenges, and their favorite banned books, and learn how to advocate for and help other teens protect their rights to read.
Teens can apply for their free BPL eCard by emailing BooksUnbanned@bklynlibrary.org or they can send a message to the program on Instagram.