On April 24 2022, Facebook page “The Other 98%” shared another page’s Twitter screenshot from @Goodable, in a post about the Brooklyn Public Library purportedly granting teenaged readers access to uncensored material:
Alongside an image from the Brooklyn Public Library’s website, the text of the tweet read:
The Brooklyn Public Library has announced that any teenager in America is now eligible for a Brooklyn Public Library card.
Teens can sign out ebooks + audiobooks from wherever they live.
The move is designed to combat censorship, with some titles listed as “always available.”
In the tweet, @Goodable said that the “move [was] designed to combat censorship.” They did not include specific examples, but the post was made amid government censorship of the graphic novel Maus and others, and ensuing discussions about book bans and book burning:
More broadly, the claim was similar to an August 2021 meme about an “uncensored library” in the game Minecraft:
Google Trends data for the seven-day period ending April 25 2022 indicated a spike for searches related to the tweet’s assertion. Popular searches included “Brooklyn public library teens,” “Brooklyn public library card for teens,” and “Brooklyn public library card.”
While popular, the tweet did not include any links to support its claims. On April 13 2022, Teen Vogue published an article about the initiative, “Brooklyn Public Library Launches Campaign Against State Book Bans,” reporting:
… on April 13 , the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) launched its Books UnBanned campaign: For a “limited time,” 13- to 21-year-olds nationwide can apply for a free one-year BPL e-card, which provides access to 350,000 e-books, 200,000 audiobooks, and over 100 databases. This campaign will also connect teens to the library’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council to “help one another with information and resources to fight censorship, book recommendations and the defense of freedom to read.”
On the same date, the Brooklyn Public Library issued a press release, “Brooklyn Public Library Offers Free eCards to Teens Nationwide Facing Book Bans in Local Communities.” Its first few paragraphs described the decision, its parameters, and noted that a standard $50 fee would be waived:
Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is launching a new campaign today [April 13 2022], titled Books UnBanned, to help teens combat the negative impact of increased censorship and book bans in libraries across the country. For a limited time, young adults ages 13 to 21 nationwide, will be able to apply for a free eCard from BPL, unlocking access to the library’s extensive collection of eBooks.
“Access to information is the great promise upon which public libraries were founded,” said Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO, Brooklyn Public Library. “We cannot sit idly by while books rejected by a few are removed from the library shelves for all. Books UnBanned will act as an antidote to censorship, offering teens and young adults across the country unlimited access to our extensive collection of ebooks and audiobooks, including those which may be banned in their home libraries.”
The card will be good for one year and is designed to complement access to resources for teens in their local communities. The Brooklyn Public Library eCard provides access to 350,00 e-books; 200,000 audiobooks and over 100 databases. Teens will also be connected to their peers in Brooklyn, including members of BPL’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council, to help one another with information and resources to fight censorship, book recommendations and the defense of freedom to read.
To apply for the card, teens can send a note to [email protected], or via the Library’s s teen-run Instagram account, @bklynfuture. The $50 fee normally associated with out-of-state cards will be waived. Teens are encouraged to share videos, essays, and stories on the importance of intellectual freedom and the impact that book challenges and bans have had on their lives.
The library will also make a selection of frequently challenged books available with no holds or wait times for all BPL cardholders, available through the library’s online catalog or Libby app. The titles include: 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[.]
While challenges to books and ideas are nothing new, the initiative was conceived in response to an increasingly coordinated and effective effort to remove books tackling a wide range of topics from library shelves. The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom counted more than 700 complaints last year, the most since it began keeping records more than 20 years ago.
In the second half of the press release, the Brooklyn Public Library listed specific examples of the sort of censorship the initiative addressed:
In Texas, Matt Krause, chairman of the Texas House of Representatives General Investigating Committee, has called for public school libraries to “account” for 850 sexually explicit or racially preferential books. The list includes a wide range of titles from National Book Award winner How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi to John Irving’s bestselling Cider House Rules. Books which feature LBGQT characters; advice for dealing with bullies; and tips for teens on relationships are all included on the list, along with titles on historical events including the rise of the KKK, the Indian Removal Act and the election of Harvey Milk.
Book Riot reports that Moms for Liberty, a conservative group with 70,000 members nationwide has a new initiative titled Moms for Libraries which aims to have books exploring sexual identity and racial polarization removed from the shelves of local libraries.
In Tennessee, the McMinn County School Board voted to remove the reading of Maus, an award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from the eighth-grade curriculum. In Llano County, Texas, a librarian was fired after she refused to follow instructions to remove books, including one about a teen who identified as transgender. Lawmakers in Indiana had been considering a bill that would allow librarians to be jailed for inappropriate content.
Locally, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) removed a tweet by the New York State Librarian after she recommended the book Gender Queer: A Memoir. NYSED said it was not aware of the graphic contents in the book.
“Brooklyn Public Library stands firmly against censorship and for the principles of intellectual freedom—the right of every individual to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction,” said Nick Higgins, Chief Librarian. “Limiting access or providing one-sided information is a threat to democracy itself.”
A viral @Goodable tweet claimed that the Brooklyn Public Library had announced that “any teenager in America is now eligible for a Brooklyn Public Library card” in a move to combat ongoing censorship efforts. While both parts of the claim were accurate, details about the duration of access (one year) were not included.
In the press release, the Brooklyn Public Library explained that American teens interested in participating could email [email protected], or contact its “teen-run Instagram account, @bklynfuture” for access.