Teens and young adults across the country now have unlimited, free access to books that have been banned at their local libraries, thanks to a digital initiative from one of the nation’s largest public libraries.
New York City’s Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) took a stand against growing censorship and book bans in announcing its “Books UnBanned Initiative” recently, providing young readers access to the library’s full eBook collection, according to a release.
“We cannot sit idly by while books rejected by a few are removed from the library shelves for all,” BPL’s President and CEO Linda E. Johnson said in the statement. “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 move comes amid increasing book bans across the country. Last year, there were 729 challenges to library, school and university materials and services. That’s up from 156 and 377 challenges reported to the American Library Association in 2020 and 2019, respectively, and the most since the organization began tracking such challenges in 2000.
More than a 1,500 books were banned in 86 school districts in 26 states across the United States between July 31, 2021, to March 31, 2022, a recent PEN America analysis found.
Challenges to books in American schools are not new, but the rate at which they have recently taken place is “unparalleled,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education program and lead author of the report.
“Challenges to books, specifically books by non-White male authors, are happening at the highest rates we’ve ever seen,” Friedman said. “What is happening in this country in terms of banning books in schools is unparalleled in its frequency, intensity, and success.”
The Brooklyn library’s initiative was inspired by the ALA’s 1953 Freedom to Read Statement, which states that it is in the public’s interest that librarians and publishers uphold, protect and preserve society’s freedom to read – as the freedom to read is essential to democracy.
The free electronic library card is valid for one year and provides readers from 13 to 21 years old access to the library’s archive of 350,000 e-books; 200,000 audiobooks and over 100 databases, according to BPL’s Books Unbanned website.
The library will provide access to “a selection of frequently challenged books” with no holds or wait 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.
Teen and young adult library cardholders are encouraged to “share videos essays, stories and opinions on the importance of intellectual freedom,” interact with the library’s teen-run Instagram account, @bklynfuture, and get in touch with the library’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council to discuss the “impact that book challenges and bans have had on their lives,” the library said.
Teens do not need parental permission to apply for the card.
CNN’s Nicole Chavez contributed to this report