Brooklyn Public Library’s “Books Unbanned” program aims to provide young people with access to censored literature


NEW YORK –  The Brooklyn Public Library’s “Books Unbanned” program was created in response to efforts to remove controversial titles from library shelves.

“Mostly the books that are being challenged largely deal with LGBTQ issues or they were written by people of color,” says Nick Higgins, BPL’s Chief Librarian.

According to Higgins, the library system wanted to support those fighting for their rights to read what interests them. 

“It’s sort of about walking, like, into a library, a space that should be a sanctuary for everyone in the community and being able to find yourself, your friends, your interests reflected on the shelves in those spaces,” he explains to CBS2’s Hannah Kliger.

While the library’s digital collection, which includes these banned books, has always been available to teens in New York state, now people aged 13-21 nationwide can email the library to get an e-card, which gives them access to half a million e-books and audio books for free. 

The Brooklyn Public Library says so far they’ve granted this access to around 5,000 young people from all 50 states.

RELATED STORY: New York Public Library offers access to commonly banned books via free app

According to the American Library Association, there were 729 challenges to library, school and university materials last year, which resulted in more than 1,500 individual attempts to remove books. That’s the highest number in at least 20 years, when the ALA began compiling this information. And most of these books affected literature meant for teens. 

“We can’t change the fact that it is happening, but we can try our best to limit its effects,” says 15-year-old Sofia Fernandez Germani, a member of the Library’s Teen Intellectual Freedom Council, which was started in response to this issue.

“Since banned books often talk about hard issues that may not even be discussed in the classroom, it’s important to have a way to find information about it,” she explains.

Library leaders and teens in this program say censorship of authors of varying perspectives shouldn’t happen in a pluralistic society. 

“Salman Rushdie was brutally attacked here in New York state for writing a book over 30 years ago, we have teachers who are being suspended, librarians who are being criminalized just for doing their jobs, we have elected officials talking about burning books in the state legislature. This is 202,  so I can’t believe we are having this conversation now,” Higgins says.

This comes as a teacher in Oklahoma says she was placed on leave in August for promoting this Brooklyn program to her students. 

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