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Brooklyn Public Library ‘Books Unbanned’ team named librarians of the year

National Award recognizes outstanding contribution to the profession

January 5, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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GRAND ARMY PLAZA —A team from Brooklyn Library (BPL) was named Librarians of the Year by Library Journal today, recognizing their tireless fight for the principles of intellectual freedom against an alarming rise in censorship. 

The award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in the library profession, was given to Librarians Nick Higgins, Leigh Hurwitz, Karen Keys and Amy Mikel, along with YA Internship Coordinator, Jackson Gomes. Together, they were recognized for creating and running Books Unbanned, a national campaign to provide access to books to young people across the country. 

Books Unbanned allows young adults ages 13 to 21, nationwide, to apply for a free eCard from BPL, unlocking access to the library’s extensive collection of half a million eBooks and audiobooks. Since launching in April 2022, more than 6000 teens have applied for the card from all 50 states.

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“The alarming rise in censorship over the last year was no match for the members of our Books Unbanned team who remain indefatigably committed to supporting the principles of intellectual freedom. They continue to provide a lifeline to teens across the country who are too often caught in the battle over censorship; each member of the team exemplifies the finest tradition of their profession. We are proud and fortunate to call them colleagues,” said Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library.

The program was developed in response to an alarming rise in book bans in school and public libraries. Indeed, the American Library Association reported a record number of challenges in 2021, targeting 1600 books, including classics like Toni Morrison’s “Bluest Eye.”

Books with LGBTQ characters or themes—and books with protagonists and characters of color—are most often marked for removal, depriving teens of the opportunity to see themselves authentically represented in the pages of a book or the chance to learn about the people in the world around them.

Along with other librarians and staff, the five members of the team began discussing the project in the early part of 2022 and realizing the speed with which book bans were occurring, worked quickly to establish an infrastructure for the program, organize and promote it.

Most notably, over many nights and weekends, they read the applications of all 6000 teens who applied for a card, many of which contained heartbreaking stories ranging from disappointment to outright bullying.

“The book bans we see across the country are attempts to silence our individuality, erase our history, and stifle our freedom to be wholly, expansively ourselves,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “The stories and characters books contain are lifelines, especially for young people who are only just discovering and learning to love every part of who they are. With the Books Unbanned program, Brooklyn Public Library extended that literary lifeline all the way from our borough into the homes of thousands of young adults. This award is a well-deserved reflection of the many hours of hard work the Books Unbanned team put into battling discrimination and censorship the Brooklyn way: by spreading love. I’m so grateful to and proud of the librarians and library staff who came together to bring justice in the form of ebooks and audiobooks to young people nationwide, and I look forward to the many more amazing things to come.”

The Books Unbanned program is ongoing. The mission is to defend books from all points of view, provide free access to information, and to support, uplift and empower librarians, teachers, and students so that books rejected by a few will not be removed from the shelves for all.

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