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How to Access Banned Books If Your Local Library Sucks

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Book-banning is one of those nosy-neighbor hobbies that becomes popular in waves. We’re currently in one of those waves, with parents and concerned citizens “challenging”—and in some cases successfully removing—books from schools and local libraries. Books with Black and/or LGBTQ+ characters and authors are often the first to be challenged. If you live in one of these areas—and especially if you’re a teen (or know a teen) whose school library has banned a bunch of books you want to read—you should know that you have other ways to check out those books. Libraries in other states can help.

How online library cards work

Every library system is different, but many libraries allow you to check out ebooks as part of their regular collection. And libraries often operate within a county or a state system, so even if the library down the street doesn’t have a certain book, you may be able to find an electronic copy somewhere else in the system.

Ebooks are usually available to be “checked out” by one patron at a time, which means there can be a waiting list. But the process is pretty simple: Usually you just need to download an app like Libby, link it to your library card, and search for whatever you want to read.

How to get a library card from another state

OK, so what if your entire library system sucks, and they simply don’t have the books you want physically or electronically? This is where you might consider getting a non-resident library card.

First, before you look out of state, check whether there are libraries in your state that issue cards you can use to check out ebooks. Even if they’re a multi-hour drive away, they may issue cards to any resident of the state, and then you’re good to go.

After that, look out of state. Many libraries will let out-of-towners get a card for a fee. For example, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh charges a $30 fee every two years if you’re from outside of Pennsylvania. The only catch is that you have to apply and renew in person. This could be a good option if you regularly visit the area and want to be able to access ebooks from home.

Here are some libraries that offer non-resident cards without having to visit the library in person:

Make sure to double check that you’re eligible and that the library you’re looking at offers the books or resources you’re looking for. Some libraries offer more books or services than others, hence the differing fees.

Banned-book projects may be able to help

The Brooklyn Public Library has a project called Books Unbanned that provides resources for teens who are dealing with book bans at their local library. They have an Intellectual Freedom Teen Council that you can email or DM on Instagram if you want to get in touch or ask for help. They also make a point of stocking books that are banned by other libraries, and many are available without a wait list. The New York Public Library also has a “Books for All” initiative, where they have made a handful of frequently banned books available without a wait list or even a library card.


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