Started by Brooklyn Public Library in 2022, Books Unbanned offers teens and young adults across the country free access to digital books and audiobooks. The program counters the increasing attempts to censor what young people read — and is powered by a growing network of foundations and donors.
The Seattle Public Library joined Brooklyn earlier this year to expand the reach of the program, to immediate success: more than 6,000 young people, from all U.S. states and territories, signed up for an SPL e-card in the first six months. That adds to the more than 7,000 cardholders served by Brooklyn.
This fall, the movement spread to Boston, Los Angeles County, and San Diego, where libraries joined with private foundation support, and with encouragement and coordination from Brooklyn and Seattle.
“We are taking a true and tangible stance to uphold democracy and our First Amendment rights,” said Paula Sakey, Executive Director of the Boston Public Library Fund, about why her library and foundation joined the Books Unbanned movement.
“Book bans are a form of censorship that has no place in our country,” said Patrick Stewart, CEO of Library Foundation SD. “Libraries must reflect the diversity of our communities.”
Like in Seattle, the new Books Unbanned programs are entirely funded by private donors, not public dollars. Strong support from our community through the Foundation ensures that our library has the resources it needs to provide digital books to young readers facing censorship or lack of access, and the same model is proving useful elsewhere.
“It is incredibly inspiring to see libraries in other parts of the country join Books Unbanned,” said Brooklyn Public Library Chief Librarian Nick Higgins. “Our goal from the beginning was to find ways to work alongside other libraries and organizations to push back on censorship wherever it is found, and to leverage a broad range of resources and expertise from a strong network of allies to protect and expand the freedom to read.”
The demand for more access to libraries is clear. Boston saw more than 1,000 card sign-ups in its first month of Books Unbanned. Sakey said that she would urge other libraries and foundations to join the movement.
“We are stronger together, and the more of us who take a stand against censorship and book bans, we can hopefully lessen these threats and drown out the negativity and anger with opportunity and learning,” she said.
In December, our friends at Library Foundation SD hosted the directors of the five library systems participating in Books Unbanned for a panel discussion, moderated by Eric Stroshane of the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. Watch the full virtual event here.
Giving to the Foundation’s Equity & Access Fund allows us to invest in programs that reduce barriers caused by censorship, systemic racism, poverty, and other factors. Your gift provides our library with the resources it needs to keep up with the demand for e-books from young people nationwide without impacting local patrons. It also helps supports programs reaching traditionally underserved communities here in Seattle.