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Encore: A library system announces a program to challenge the tide of book bans

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Across the country, school districts are banning books from classrooms and school libraries; books like "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison and the memoir "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe. But NPR's Andrew Limbong says one library system has a novel idea to fight back.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Let's say you're a 14-year-old kid living in a school district that's just banned the young adult memoir "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson. You can email the Brooklyn Public Library system over in New York and explain to them the situation.

NICK HIGGINS: We are offering them, basically, a free out-of-state e-card...

LIMBONG: That's Nick Higgins, chief librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.

HIGGINS: ...Which gives them access to about half a million audiobooks and e-books in our system at Brooklyn Public Library unrestricted, totally for free.

LIMBONG: This would normally cost 50 bucks, by the way. And it's specifically for younger people, folks between the ages of 13 and 21. It's part of a campaign the library is calling Books Unbanned. And the free e-card is just one part of it.

Another part is connecting teens in districts with banned books to participating teenagers in Brooklyn, teens like Gabas Yagoub, a junior at Midwood High School (laughter) and the type of kid who, when you ask if she's read any good books lately, says stuff like...

GABAS YAGOUB: Well, it's hard to say 'cause I don't have a favorite book 'cause all books are my favorite (laughter).

LIMBONG: The point is for these kids to get together and share resources to push back against encroaching censorship and, of course, talk books because as Yagoub says, a book isn't just a story.

YAGOUB: So it's a really good opportunity to learn and to, like, decipher the messages or the hidden motives of characters or, like, the significance of settings and of symbols of stories just like these to, like, gain knowledge for yourself and also, like, get an understanding of the world also.

LIMBONG: Nick Higgins, the chief librarian, knows this is just a small step in the bigger fight against book bans.

HIGGINS: You know, listen and defending books that we agree with and don't agree with, with equal fervor and determination.

LIMBONG: He says, hopefully, it'll lead to some hard soul-searching from public libraries everywhere when it comes to pushing back against outside voices calling for book bans.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRENTEMOLLER'S "MISS YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.