Brooklyn Public Library Against Book Banners


When the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) launched its Books not prohibited initiative in April, the library system did something unprecedented: it allowed readers aged 13 to 21 living anywhere in the country to apply for free library e-cards. This, the BPL announced, is a direct rebuke to a dramatic increase in book bans and book removals from public and school libraries in cities and towns across all 50 states. It was also a clear repudiation of the well-coordinated campaign by right-wing groups, including the Heritage Foundation, Mothers for Freedom, No left turn in education and the Manhattan Institute restrict what young people can find on the shelves of their community libraries.

The new e-cards, library staff explained, give young readers access to the BPL’s entire digital catalog, around 350,000 e-books, 200,000 audiobooks and more than 100 databases.

Public response to the initiative, said BPL spokesperson Fritzi Bodenheimer The Independent, was largely positive. In fact, since its launch, the program has issued e-cards to over 5,000 people from every nook and corner of the United States. Additionally, adds Bodenheimer, the number of teen volunteers at the library has more than doubled since the effort began.

“Young people are often the people most affected by book bans and censorship,” she explains. “It’s usually the ones who get caught in the middle and are denied access to material they might want to read. We don’t keep track of what they download, but they should be able to read whatever they want.

BRICKS AND CLICKS: The Brooklyn Central Library is located at 10 Grand Army Plaza. It has dozens of local libraries and a nationwide membership. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Summer Boismier, a high school English teacher, agrees, which is why she put both an anti-censorship statement and the BPL QR code on her Norman, Oklahoma class books. But after parent Laney Dickson complained about the message Boismier saw on a book his daughter had brought home from school in early September, a hubbub ensued and, before long, Education Secretary Ryan Walters — currently a Republican candidate for state superintendent of education — issued a public notice. request the revocation of Boismier’s teaching license. Boismier has since resigned from his position.

According to a statement released by Walterswho did not respond to The Independents interview request, “There is no place for a teacher with a liberal political agenda in the classroom. The fact that Ms. Boismier gives students access to prohibited and pornographic material is unacceptable and we must ensure that she does not go to another district and do the same thing.

Boismier, of course, is not the only educator to find herself in the crosshairs of the right. groups whose American Library Association noted that librarians have been doxxed, harassed online and denounced as “paedophiles” and “healers” for refusing to remove LGBTQIA+ affirming books from circulation. Some librarians, New York Times reports, resigned accordingly.

Unsurprisingly, this emboldened the right, and rather than petering out, the censorship campaigns continued to intensify. The result is that many restrictions now limit what children, and in some cases adults, can read and study in many parts of the country.

Additionally, this year is on track to have the highest number of book bans ever recorded by the ALA. In effect, a report published in mid-September cited 681 attempts to restrict 1,651 titles in the first eight months of 2022, compared to 729 attempts to restrict 1,597 titles in the 12 months of 2021. Books that discuss gender identity, race and of sexuality are the most frequent targets, with Maia Kobabe’s Gender QueerJonathan Evison lawn boyby George M. Johnson Not all boys are blueAshley Hope Perez’s out of darkness and Angie Thomas’ Hate U Givand at the top of the list.

Books that deal with gender identity, race and sexuality are the most frequent targets of right-wingers who want to control what young people read.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, said Indep that while the BPL is the only library system providing unlimited e-cards to young readers, other libraries are also finding ways to resist book bans and censorship. Some, she says, have instituted an “honor system” to allow library users to anonymously pick up and remove materials without having to officially verify them. In addition, she says a slew of localities have brought together independent booksellers, civil liberties and progressives to sponsor gift books of texts such as Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust memoir, Maus, after being opposed by Tennessee conservatives last spring.

“The fact that we don’t have a federated library system in the United States means everything is local,” says Caldwell-Stone, resulting in wide disparities in the reading materials people can get. “In places where people have very low incomes or have limited access to the internet, they usually have limited access to information. Institutions like libraries are supposed to meet the intellectual needs of everyone. Access should not depend on a group’s moral agenda or political priorities. Young people need information about gender identity, sexuality and sexual identity. This information can save their lives and help them become whole. The same is true, she adds, for books that deal with race, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Asian attitudes and Islamophobia.

Librarians as a whole see the preservation of intellectual freedom as a galvanizing issue, Caldwell-Stone continues, and a recently formed coalition of ALA and 25 organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, the American Indian Library Association, the Chinese American Librarian’s Association, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are currently working to push back against right-wing efforts to suppress knowledge and to restrict intellectual exploration.

The ALA is unequivocal in its denunciation of book bans and its attempts to limit the ideas people are exposed to: “Some organizations have advanced the proposition that the voices of the marginalized have no place on library shelves,” the group’s statement concludes. on censorship. “To that end, they have launched campaigns demanding the censorship of books and resources that reflect the lives of gay, queer, or transgender people, or that tell the stories of Black, Indigenous, or people of color. Falsely claiming that these works are subversive, immoral or worse, these groups incite elected and non-elected to abandon institutional principles, ignore the rule of law and ignore individual rights to promote government censorship of the collections of libraries. The ALA strongly condemns these acts.

Likewise, the Brooklyn Public Library. Although the e-cards were originally intended to give users access to documents for a period of one year, BPL recently announced that the cards will not expire but will continue to give young cardholders unlimited access to resources. from the library.

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