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Brooklyn Public Library makes banned books available to teens for free

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

An update now on a library that is not removing books from circulation - quite the opposite. Since April, the Brooklyn Public Library has been making e-books and audiobooks available to teens around the country for free. The program is called Books Unbanned. Nick Higgins joins us now. He's the chief librarian. Thanks very much for being with us.

NICK HIGGINS: It's great to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Seems there's a new story every day about books being removed from library shelves. I wonder if you've seen an increase in your Books Unbanned program.

HIGGINS: We've seen a tremendous amount of people who are reaching out to us for access to our collections. So we're - you know, we're providing a free digital e-card to young people across the country who are facing challenges in their own communities or pressure to ban books from their collections. And they reach out to us and, you know, tell us their story, and we will issue them a free e-card. We have seen a tremendous jump in the amount of people who, you know, desperately need access to these collections.

SIMON: As I understand it, you're making about half a million audio books and e-books available. How did you choose what made the cut?

HIGGINS: It's our entire e-book and audiobook collection. So we're not...

SIMON: Oh.

HIGGINS: ...Restricting access to any of those books. So the idea is that we're not just highlighting books that are frequently challenged or banned in particular communities or libraries or schools across the country. But the whole point of a public library is to provide a broad spectrum of ideas and points of view. And we're not making any judgments or any, you know, evaluation on what that content is, and people can access it all they like without any restriction.

SIMON: Have you heard from librarians in other communities either saying, I wish you wouldn't do that, or, way to go?

HIGGINS: We've been hearing more of the latter. I mean, way to go. I mean, the library communities out there have been very supportive, and particularly those who are facing a lot of opposition or a lot of censorship efforts in their communities and, you know, are really, you know, thankful for - you know, listen, we're a big library system, so we can offer some of the support for some of our colleagues out there who are struggling or on the receiving end of some of these challenges. You know, listen - I mean, we - you know, we're a very strong community. We are, you know, mission-driven. We are resting on values of - and principles of - inclusion and access. And, you know, when we see a threat to it, you know, we want to step in and support one another to push back on those threats.

SIMON: Any one or two books you'd recommend for a teen to read this weekend?

HIGGINS: Oh. For...

SIMON: I know that with, like, millions at your command, that puts you in a difficult position.

HIGGINS: Yeah, for sure. For teens - you know, listen, I'm - how about I just - I'm going to punt on this one...

SIMON: Yeah.

HIGGINS: ...And say, listen, teens, read what you want to read. Don't let anyone tell you that the book that you want to read is inappropriate or not for you. You know your reading habits and your predilections best. So come to a library - a public library. You know, find a book on the shelf. It's going to jump out at you. And it could be the favorite book of, you know, your reading life. And read what you want. Read often. And read everything you can get your hands on.

SIMON: Nick Higgins, who's chief librarian of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Thanks so much for being with us.

HIGGINS: Scott, it's truly an honor. Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.