Youth Nationwide are Now Able to Access Banned Books Digitally through the Books Unbanned Initiative

Sean Wu // The Watchdog

The convenience of eBooks is being embraced and utilized by the Seattle Public Library (SPL) as it joins Brooklyn Public Library (BPL)’s Books Unbanned initiative. As the second library in the nation to join, Seattle Public Library is ahead of the game. This initiative will allow young people across the country from ages 13 to 26 to access banned eBooks and audiobooks that might not be accessible in their own areas. 

Residents of the U.S. can apply for both SPL and BPL Books Unbanned cards, allowing them to peruse many publications. BPL has over 500,000 pieces of literature, and the Central Seattle Library has around 1.45 million books, among other materials. Together, they are unstoppable forces opposing censorship. 

Some of the titles available include “The Hate U Give,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “How to be an Antiracist.” It’s unclear exactly why these books are being banned. The top causes of book bans or challenges is material that is “sexually explicit,” has “offensive language” or is “unsuited to any age group,” presumably meaning violence or graphic content. These are vague reasons that could have a range of purposes, such as differences of political opinion. 

The Seattle Public Library acknowledges on its Books Unbanned website that “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.” Reading these kinds of books is important because they “can help you understand yourself and connect to others.” Whatever the reasoning for banning different books, this act can intentionally or unintentionally leave important stories out of the national narrative. The library aims to protect free thinking and self-discovery. 

The emergence of Books Unbanned is influenced by an increasing amount of requests to censor literature. Book censorship has always been a contentious subject, but it seems to be increasing in recent years. According to the American Library Association (ALA), in 2022 there was nearly a double increase, with 1,269 demands of censorship recorded. This is the highest amount in the more than 20 years of the ALA recording data on censorship in libraries. 

Seattle Public Library summarizes their views in their online statement, saying that “We support intellectual freedom and uphold the right of all people to freely and confidentially access information as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We oppose any attempt to censor or restrict public access to information and ideas. Our resources and services are available to everyone equally.”

At the heart of the library system is the desire for a diverse expanse of knowledge that is available to all. The American Library Association has its own Bill of Rights, which governs all American libraries. Article three states that “Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” The Office for Intellectual Freedom is a division of the ALA specifically designed to help deal with censorship in libraries and schools. Banned Books Week, which started in 1982, is another way that the ALA promotes the freedom to read. Bellevue College library also has a history of supporting the unbanning of books on campus. Since at least 2011, it has participated in Banned Books Week. 

You may be wondering if expanding the availability of Seattle Public Library’s collection will make books less available to Seattleites. This is still to be determined, but SPL does have a collection of Always Available books with unlimited eBooks and audiobooks with no wait! BPL has a similar collection under Always Available and Always Awesome.