NYC library gives youths nationwide access to banned books online for free

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The Brooklyn Public Library is now offering a free library card to anyone in the U.S. aged 13 to 21 who wants to check out and read books digitally from anywhere in the country.

The program, called Books UnBanned, was created by Brooklyn Public Library Chief Librarian Nick Higgins in response to the nationwide wave of book censorship and restrictions over the past year.

Young people can apply for a free eCard to check out books from the library’s 500,000 ebooks and audiobooks collection.

Since April, 4,000 youths from all over the country have signed up to check out books through the program.

Available online are books like “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson and “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan.

Accounts of book banning, attempted book banning, and threats against librarians have soared over the past year.

The American Library Association found 729 challenges — affecting nearly 1,600 books — at public schools and libraries in 2021, more than double 2020’s figures and the highest since the ALA began compiling challenges more than 20 years ago.

The actual total for last year is likely much higher — the ALA collects data through media accounts and cases it learns about from librarians, educators, and other community members. Books preemptively pulled by librarians — out of fear of community protest or concern for their jobs — and challenges never reported by libraries are not included.

This year, the number could grow higher as conservative-led school boards and legislatures enact more restrictions.

Earlier this year, the Georgia legislature passed a bill to accelerate the process of removing books seen as “harmful to minors.”

The two most challenged books on the ALA’s top 10 list have been in the news often: Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir about sexual identity, “Gender Queer,” and Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” a coming-of-age novel narrated by a young gay man. Republican officials have singled out both.

Others on the ALA list, virtually all cited for LGBTQ or racial themes, include Angie Thomas’ bestselling “The Hate U Give,” centered on a police shooting of a Black teen; George Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Juno Dawson’s “This Book Is Gay” and Susan Kuklin’s “Beyond Magenta.” Other books on the list are Sherman Alexie’s autobiographical novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s debut novel “The Bluest Eye.”

The library association defines a “challenge” as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.” The ALA doesn’t keep a precise figure for how many books have actually been removed, but cases have come up routinely over the past year. Last December, a school district in San Antonio, Texas, pulled hundreds of library books to “ensure they did not have any obscene or vulgar material in them.”