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Books unbanned: Seattle Public Library makes banned books available to young readers

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Photo courtesy of SPL
Photo courtesy of SPL

The Seattle Public Library is now the second system in the US to make banned books available to young readers. Among the banned titles are many dealing with sexual orientation, gender identity, and race issues.

Seattle's libraries joined Books Unbanned — a new program designed to allow young people to choose their own reading material — on April 27. They follow Brooklyn, New York, libraries, which pioneered the program in April 2022.

Seattle's Books Unbanned program allows young people between the ages of 13 and 26 to apply for an e-card with which they can check out e-books and audiobooks. Applications for the e-cards are taken online and don't require the knowledge or approval of parents, teachers, or school authorities. Young readers anywhere in the country can apply for an e-card from the Seattle or the Brooklyn library systems.

With the e-card, young readers can use their laptops, tablets, phones, or Kindle to read the books they choose. They can check out up to 10 at a time and put an additional five on hold.

Readers who want an e-card or just want to look at the titles available can go to https://spl.org/programs-and-services/teens/books-unbanned.

Image courtesy of SPL  

Books Unbanned was inspired by the American Library Association's Freedom to Read statement. The Brooklyn Public Library describes the program as "a response to an increasingly coordinated and effective effort to remove books tackling a wide range of topics from library shelves."

"Many banned or challenged books are by or about Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), or LGBTQ+ people and explore their experiences, stories, histories, and movements," the Seattle Public Library says. "Reading these books can help you understand yourself and connect to others."

Censorship of books for young readers became a nationwide issue in 2021, after a video of a Fairfax County, Virginia, school board meeting went viral. In it, a parent demands the school board remove the graphic novel Gender Queer from the high school library.

The video became an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial election that year, with many observers attributing the victory of Republican Glenn Youngkin to his vociferous support for the parent. The video also inspired right-wing activists to pressure school boards in other states to start pulling books from library shelves.

In response, the American Library Association issued its Freedom to Read statement, and the Books Unbanned project began. According to the Brooklyn Public Library, some 6,000 young readers were participating in the program by January 2023, and had checked out 52,000 books.