Brooklyn Public Library's program, which features reading material deemed "inappropriate" for youth, combats conservative fear of discourse around protest, mental health, bodily autonomy, sexuality, and reparations
Last spring, the so-called “War on Books” reared its head once again, with conservative lawmakers and school boards across the nation calling for censorship of “inappropriate” reading material—particularly work angled toward young readers, or commonly included on course syllabi. The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Brave New World, The Bluest Eye, and Maus are a handful of classic targets; more recently, there’s In the Dream House, The Glass Castle, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, How to Be an Antiracist, and Gender Queer: A Memoir—the last of which was the most-banned book of 2022.
In an effort to combat this literary blackout, the Brooklyn Public Library launched Books Unbanned—an initiative that provides affected teenagers with digital library cards so that they can access the institution’s collection. So far, they’ve received 6,000 membership requests, with 52,000 check-outs to date.
In America, libraries are the last bastion of institutional freedom of information, with almost all other digital platforms—from local papers, to online courses, to scholastic archives like JSTOR—behind a paywall. In recent history, they’re easy to target, skewing liberal as most academic bodies do. Drag queen story hours—a relatively recent trend, meant to impart to children the values of diversity and open-minded acceptance—generate particular right-wing vitriol; at the very least, hosting an event of this nature will draw protesters, if not outright vandalism or destruction. The conservative fear of queer “grooming,” critical race theory, feminism, and general exposure to discourse around protest, mental health, bodily autonomy, sexuality, and reparations has apparently threatened the purity of the only true public forum we have left.
The efforts of the Brooklyn Public Library provide a hopeful model for other institutions to follow—and with tens of thousands of books already accessed, it’s clear that young readers are actively seeking out voices different from those they have contact with already.