In the past several months, the Brooklyn Public Library has issued more than 5,100 free electronic library cards to young people nationwide, Nick Higgins, the library’s chief librarian told CNN.
Since then, readers between 13 to 21 years old in every state of the country and Washington, DC have applied for the electronic cards, Higgins said, and an estimated 18,000 e-books or audiobooks have been checked out every month.
“On one side, it’s great that we were able to step in and support people in their time of need with access to robust library collections, but it’s also really telling that there are significant censorship efforts going on across the country that a lot of us need to band together to push back on,” Higgins said.
Higgins said the library has received hundreds of messages from teens and their families who shared their gratitude, how they’ve seen books being removed from shelves and even the frustration that some feel for not having a library near their homes.
Due to the success of the initiative, the Brooklyn Public Library plans to run the program indefinitely. Young people will continue getting their free electronic library card for one year and will have the option to renew it, Higgins said.
Cardholders have access to the library’s archive of 350,000 e-books; 200,000 audiobooks and over 100 databases. The library also provides access to “a selection of frequently challenged books” with no holds or wait times for cardholders, including “The Black Flamingo” by Dean Atta, “Tomboy” by Liz Prince, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, ” The 1619 Project” by Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Juliet Takes a Breath” by Gabby Rivera, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong, and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison.
As part of the initiative, a group of teens in New York who are members of the library’s Teen Intellectual Freedom Council invited teens who got their electronic cards to meet virtually. Now, teens in Texas, Alabama and other states meet once a month to discuss censorship and ways to push back in their own communities.
“Seeing a group of teams connect to one another across state lines, just to get together to try to find a shared understanding of a particular topic and how it impacts them is really inspiring. It’s really what this whole initiative is really about,” Higgins said.
Public libraries have been engulfed in the nationwide debate over what titles people, especially children, have access to as conservative groups and individuals single out books that deal with race, gender or sexuality.
“These fringe groups capitalize on that lack of knowledge from everyday citizens, and they use rhetoric, like pornography and erotica to describe books, especially books around LGBTQ+ themes and sexual health books that are written by experts like the American Psychological Association,” Jones told CNN earlier this month. “They are not interested in the truth.”