New York

Brooklyn Library’s ‘Books Unbanned’ Team Wins Accolade

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll meet the librarians of the year and find out why they were chosen. We’ll also meet someone who will be working with them after moving to Brooklyn from 1,500 miles away.

From left, Leigh Hurwitz, Amy Mikel, Nick Higgins and Karen Keys, members of the “Books Unbanned” team.Credit…Ahmed Gaber for The New York Times

It’s only the fourth day of the year, but already we know a lot about 2023. We know that Motor Trend’s car of the year is the Genesis G90 and that Sailing World’s boat of the year is the Beneteau First 36. We also know that the color of the year is Viva Magenta 18-1750, according to Pantone, whose color matching system is used in art, printing and fashion.

And now we know that the librarians of the year are five staff members on the “Books Unbanned” team at the Brooklyn Public Library.

They were recognized by Library Journal for creating “Books Unbanned” to reach readers in places where new restrictions might force books off library shelves and out of classrooms. “Books Unbanned” issues library cards that give electronic access to the Brooklyn library’s digital and audio collections. So far 6,000 teenagers have requested cards through “Books Unbanned” since the program began last spring.

Library Journal said “Books Unbanned” was “ambitious, broad in scope and held the potential to affect thousands of young readers” and had “proved successful far beyond their original hopes.”

“While ‘Books Unbanned’ was originally planned to run for a limited time, it has taken on a life of its own — one that continues to grow and change,” Library Journal wrote in announcing the choice. “Thanks to everyone involved, ‘Books Unbanned’ has been a success, with 52,000 checkouts to date.”

Nick Higgins, the Brooklyn Public Library’s chief librarian and one of the five librarians cited by Library Journal, sounded elated. Library Journal “gets read by the profession,” he said. And the list of past winners includes Carla Hayden, the librarian of the year in 1995, when she was the director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the public library system in Baltimore. She is now the librarian of Congress.

Higgins and the four other librarians started “Books Unbanned” at a time when efforts to ban books had proliferated around the country, with parents, activists and conservative lawmakers adopting aggressive tactics to challenge topics and titles they disapproved of.

Those maneuvers contradicted what Higgins and the other librarians saw as the fundamental purpose of a library as a place that would “reflect the entire community,” he said. “That includes all sorts of voices, abilities, backgrounds, experiences and income levels. To forcibly remove some of those stories is antithetical to what libraries and even democracy are about.”

A special concern of the “Books Unbanned” team was the message that book bans sent to teenage readers, given “the particular flavor of book bans now” that target titles by or about lesbians, gay men, transgender people or Black people, Higgins said.

“Young people are seeing stories that speak to them being taken off the shelves,” Higgins said, which he called a signal to young people that they don’t matter in their communities.

The team also wanted to acknowledge librarians at reference desks who have to put up with angry people shouting at them about a book they found on the shelves. “We wanted to figure out a way to lend some support to them, to help them get through this and find ways to push back,” he said.

A new employee who fits right in

Credit…Sean Murphy/Associated Press

One of the Brooklyn library’s newest employees is Summer Boismier, above, who discovered “Books Unbanned” when she lived 1,500 miles away — and paid a price for her discovery.

She was a teacher who posted the QR code for “Books Unbanned” in her classroom in Norman, Okla., when school began in late August. She was soon placed on administrative leave and summoned to a meeting with school administrators. This came after a parent complained that she had spent class time discussing the QR code and after Oklahoma lawmakers had approved a limit on what public schools could teach about race and gender.

The state secretary of education, Ryan Walters, demanded that her teaching certificate be revoked. She resigned before officials could do that and visited Brooklyn Public Library a few weeks later. “When I left, it felt like I was leaving home,” she said. “It wasn’t the building or even the books themselves that created that feeling, it was the people. The librarians.”

One thing led to another, and last month she moved to Brooklyn to join the library’s staff as the teen initiatives project manager.

Boismier said 2022 was “utterly tragic” because book bans had escalated. “The people who are primarily affected are the most disenfranchised,” she said. “These are our young people. We’ve all seen the images, the video, of contentious school board meetings or people talking about what I believe to be a misnomer, which is parents’ rights. I’ve talked about teachers’ rights and the right to free expression in a classroom. But at the end of the day, it really comes back to students’ right to read what they want.”

But she said she was hopeful about the direction of the national conversation about book bans. “We’ve seen the headlines of young people who’ve said enough is enough. That’s the courage it takes to stand up to adults. I don’t know if I had been 15 in 2022 I could have done that.”

Boismier said she has been adjusting to Brooklyn, a place she said she had assumed was “like my mom’s subdivision” in size.

“I seem unable to master the subway,” she said, adding that she had “hate-Googled the M.T.A.” — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the agency that runs the subways — “which is incredibly cathartic if you’ve never done it before.”


Weather

Prepare for another day of showers, with temperatures near the mid-60s. At night, showers continue, with temps dropping to the high 40s.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Friday (Three Kings’ Day).


The latest New York news

Credit…Greg M. Cooper/Associated Press
  • A wrenching year: Over the last eight months, the city of Buffalo has been buffeted by one tragedy after another. Through it all, its beloved N.F.L. team, the Bills, has been a bright spot, until the horrifying collapse of their 24-year-old safety on Monday night.

  • Santos fraud case: Brazilian law enforcement authorities intend to revive fraud charges against George Santos, who was elected to the House of Representatives from the Third Congressional District, and will seek his formal response.

Crime

  • Guilty plea in subway shooting: Frank James, who was charged with shooting 10 people last April in one of the worst attacks in recent years on the New York subway, pleaded guilty to terrorism.

  • FTX case: Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced cryptocurrency executive, returned to New York and pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that he engaged in widespread fraud and other crimes.


METROPOLITAN diary

Caregiver’s delight

Dear Diary:

First, a regular slice of pizza and iced tea
then a walk toward Central Park
Free drawing at the Frick —
Fragonard, Goya, van Dyck.

Afterward, still broke, abandoned, alone,
walking along Madison Avenue toward 86th
Street, window shopping at every boutique.

At my favorite bistro,
sacrificing to enjoy two glasses of wine,
usually Malbec
and later a Ruby Port.

Journaling at the bistro table, drawing a
better blueprint for myself while eating
steamed vegetables and duck confit, or
sometimes flatbread pizza with figs
and cheese. For dessert, bread pudding.

Drawing endless nude models at the League
filling up smooth newsprint pads
and fancy sketchbooks, then

back home in the Bronx showing
portraits and life drawings to my dying
father, his face so pleased, even in his
delirium and fever, blushing at the nudes

Singing for my father by his bedside, holding
his hand, trying to remember the immaterial
essence of the anatomy beyond his ailing
bones, trying to keep my emotions steady
and still —

as graceful and gracious as a merciful art model, posing nude on a platform in a classroom

for me, a caregiver and a daughter
drawing strength, trying not to fall apart.

Tiffany Osedra Miller

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.


Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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