BROOKLYN, N.Y. – When an increased number of books became banned across the United States over the last couple of years, a group of Brooklyn librarians knew they had to act.
“We’ve had more banned books reported across libraries and schools in this country than ever before,” said Nick Higgins, chief librarian at Brooklyn Public Library.
Creating the ‘Books Unbanned’ initiative earned a team of five librarians the title of Librarians of the Year by the Library Journal. It was a program they initially thought wouldn’t reach far, but it took flight last spring.
By waiving the $50 fee for eCards for those living out of state, teens all over the country can access those banned books.
“Largely, those books are focused on LGBTQ characters or written by Black authors, so there’s a specific target to these book bans,” Higgins added.
When a group of people in different parts of the country find offense to certain books, the administration of that area’s library or school has the books removed from shelves, so the public cannot access them.
So far, BPL has issued more than 6,000 eCards to teens in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, with more than 50,000 check-outs.
For librarians Leigh Hurwitz and Jackson Gomes, it’s a personal matter.
“As a queer person myself, especially, I feel like it’s really important to support the queer teens that are coming up behind me and I know that it’s life-saving to be able to connect them with this literature,” Hurwitz said.
“I’m an immigrant,” Gomes said. “I came to this country [and] this was my first library and I feel like as a teen in other countries, you pay to be part of a library. That should be free for all Americans.”
The other two librarians honored are Karen Keys and Amy Mikel.
Protecting one teen’s identity, the eCard holder said this about their own experience:
“Most libraries near me have LGBTQ+ books ‘in stock,’ but they can never actually be found in the library… the last time I went to look at books about LGBTQ+, I was told that I didn’t need to get those kinds of ideas in my head.”
The Brooklyn Public library reinforces what it says is one of many purposes of public libraries – to protect the expression and representation of all communities. Seeing their powerful impact, they plan to grow the program even bigger.
If you are between 13 and 21 years old and would like a free eCard, email BooksUnbanned@bklynlibrary.org to apply.