Brooklyn Library Gonna Give Teens All The Banned Books They Want
The American Library Association has reported that its Office for Intellectual Freedom "tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals" — the highest number since the association first began tracking these challenges 20 years ago. The vast majority of these books, they say, "were by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons."
This is not good, nor is it surprising, and it will probably be even worse this year, what with Florida leading the charge to end childhood and teenage reading. But some are fighting back.
In an effort to combat censorship, the Brooklyn Library announced its new Books Unbanned initiative, allowing any American between the ages of 13 and 21 to apply for a free, unmetered Brooklyn Library ecard — regardless of where they live.
Nick Higgins, the chief librarian at BPL, says that in the first two days since the initiative was announced, around 200 teenagers have signed up, with over 700 applications received in total. He says that teenagers should not have to walk into a library only to be told they don’t belong because they don’t see themselves reflected in the collections.
“Intellectual freedom, the right to read, is foundational to any functioning society,” Higgins told Motherboard. “Any hope for civil discourse among people of a diverse community requires having access to multiple points of view, and it just makes us richer in the long run.”
This is true. But as important as it is for us to see ourselves reflected in the books we read, it is important for us to see people unlike ourselves in books and media as well. It's a very important way of developing empathy and understanding. This is how straight white men get to be seen as being "neutral" — because most of us have spent a significant part of our life with media centered on straight white men. Shows, movies and books centered on straight white men are meant to be relatable to everyone, while media centered on women is thought to be not just exclusively for women, but a threat to the heterosexuality or masculinity of any man who might enjoy it. There is similar bullshit at work with media centering queer people or centering people of color.
That is their real fear. Their fear isn't just that people will see themselves in media, but that others will see them as well, and develop empathy. That is why they are banning math textbooks they fear might do that.
This is a great program, and one that will enrich the lives of many teenagers — but it's not a permanent solution. After all, not all teens have access to ereaders or have parents who will let them read any book they want, but all of them deserve to have access to these books. All of them deserve to have course materials in school and access to media that helps them grow both as students and as people, and helps them to see others as just as human and as deserving of respect as they are.
And the rest of us deserve to live in a world with people who have learned that, rather than whatever it is Ron DeSantis learned that made him grow up to be Ron DeSantis.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse