As libraries across the country face increasing calls to pull certain books from shelves, the Boston Public Library is pushing back by opening its digital collection to teenagers and young adults across the country.
The library announced Wednesday it is joining the “Books Unbanned” initiative that was kicked off in 2022 by the Brooklyn Public Library. Boston is the third library system to join the network, which also includes the Seattle Public Library.
The program allows anyone between the ages of 13 and 26 who lives in the United States to obtain a Boston Public Library e-card and check out e-books and digital audiobooks, the library said in a statement. The program’s purpose is to supplement what is available to readers at their local library.
“By joining this initiative, we embrace the opportunity to champion the principle of access for individuals across the nation who face limitations in reaching content and are unable to advocate for themselves,” BPL president David Leonard said in a statement.
The announcement comes just ahead of national Banned Books Week, which begins this weekend with the BPL’s “Let Freedom Read: Statewide Read-In to Fight Censorship.” The event is Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Central Library in Copley Square where adults and children are invited for a silent read-in to show support in the fight against banning books, according to the library’s website.
School libraries have been at the center of book ban efforts in recent years but the American Library Association last week reported a sharp increase in the number of public libraries that are being targeted with calls to remove titles, particularly those written by or about people in the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.
The association found 1,915 unique titles that were the focus of book-banning efforts across the country between January and the end of August this year, a 20 percent increase from the same time in 2022.
Book banning efforts had been relatively low in Massachusetts compared with other states but the numbers have increased here, as the ALA reported 45 challenges on more than 50 books in the state last year. The association’s data for 2022 show that although fewer titles are targeted in Massachusetts (57 in 2022) compared with Florida (991) or Texas (2,349), the figures are closer when looking at the number of individual efforts to have books removed (45 in Massachusetts versus 35 in Florida and 93 in Texas). The most challenged book in 2022 in Massachusetts was “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe.
A recent survey by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners found nearly 25 percent of school and public librarians in the state reported facing harassment on social media and 18 percent reported being harassed in person over challenges to the library’s collection or programming.
The new program at the Boston library is funded by private donations to the Boston Public Library Fund and will give readers access to more than 300,000 e-books and e-audiobooks, the library said. The library e-card is valid for one year and allows users to check out up to 10 titles at once from the BPL’s online catalog.
The Brooklyn Public Library started “Books Unbanned” and opened its digital collection to young adult and teen readers nationwide in the spring of 2022. A year later, in April, the Brooklyn library reported that more than 6,000 young people had signed up for a free e-card and had checked out approximately 100,000 books.
The Seattle Public Library joined the initiative last spring.
“We are excited to welcome Boston Public Library to Books Unbanned,” Linda Johnson, president and chief executive of the Brooklyn Public Library, said in a statement Thursday. “Together, with our partners in Seattle, we will ensure that every young person in the nation has free and open access to books from all points of view.”