All for a Library Card

Season 7, Episode 1

When a high school teacher in Norman, Oklahoma shared a QR code with her students that would grant them access to BPL’s digital collection, she took a stand against a restrictive state law. That act of resistance made her first day of school ... also her last. 

Our call to action for this episode:
  • Get a library card! Wherever you live, sign up for a library card in person or online. If you're between the ages of 13 and 21, you can apply to our free Books Unbanned e-library card. If you're an adult and you want to support the program, you can donate here.
  • Exciting news! Seattle Public Library and Boston Public Library now also have Books Unbanned cards that you can apply to up to age 26. And, if you live anywhere in California, you can apply to LA County Library's Books Unbanned program between the ages of 13 and 18.
More resources:

Read some of the most frequently-challenged books (many of which will be featured on this podcast series)!

Episode Transcript

[Cross promotion]

[Classroom sounds]

Virginia Marshall The first day of school. It's a day that looms large in our lives. The day you get to start fresh, a clean slate, year after year. 

[Bell ringing]

Virginia Marshall And Summer Boismier has had her fair share of them. She’s been teaching English in Oklahoma public schools for about a decade. Still meeting a whole new class of students can be daunting... so year after year, Summer begins with a signature opening line. 

Summer Boismier Lasagna is a sandwich. There is not a single soul in, in any of my classes really, that has ever agreed with me. And they are incredibly eager to prove me wrong.  

Adwoa Adusei In August 2022, Summer was about to meet a new class of 10th graders at Norman High School, in Norman, Oklahoma. It was time for a new year of reading and research papers and controversial food opinions. But this year felt different. For the first time, Summer approached that first day of school with trepidation. 


Adwoa Adusei A law had been passed in Oklahoma. And it targeted what could be taught in schools. The law prohibits anything that could cause someone to quote, "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” That could include teaching about racism, or having books in the curriculum that center LGBTQ+ characters.  

Virginia Marshall The fact that the law is so vague is what makes it so dangerous. It’s called HB 1775.

[News clips: House Bill 1775.]

Virginia Marshall And over the summer, the state of Oklahoma began to enforce it. In July 2022, the state downgraded the accreditation of two school districts, Tulsa and Mustang, based on perceived HB 1775 violations. 

News Announcer 1 Two school districts saw their accredidations down-graded for breaking the rules

News Announcer 2 And some teachers worry the law will impact how they teach about race-related events in our state's history.

Summer Boismier People were scared. I mean, if you're an administrator, a superintendent, for instance, in district, you're between a rock and a hard place. How do you support your teachers? How do you keep your district open?  

Adwoa Adusei Accreditation is super important in schools. It gives high schools good standing on college applications. And it ensures big pockets of funding. So this ruling was an alarm bell for schools across the state. HB-1775 targeted the books in school libraries, too. Even the books that English teachers put on their classroom shelves – which they often pay for out of their own pockets. Teachers do this to supplement the school’s curriculum.

Summer Boismier Classroom libraries can be an opportunity to expand, right? That those stories that, that we prioritize in our classrooms … which tend to be outdated. Very white, very male, heterosexual, cisgender. It really does speak to a very narrow section of the population.

Virginia Marshall Even though HB 1775 didn’t include a specific list of books that teachers had to remove from classrooms, the general fear of losing funding and reputation were too big to ignore. So, just a few days before the start of the school year in 2022, administrators at Norman High School called a department meeting. It was a meeting Summer will never forget. 

Summer Boismier So we were advised essentially to vet our classroom libraries—as if we hadn't been doing that all along—and pull any books that we thought might violate the law. The directive was: restrict or remove student access.  If you're not sure, remove access entirely. I have been in many a department meeting before. It was not, as we say, back home, it was not my first rodeo. I have never seen teachers cry. I saw that. Because we, we all know, right? We are all experts in the field. We know that's wrong. We know that's censorship and we know the slippery slope, right, that creates. 

[Theme music]

Virginia Marshall Summer saw teachers boxing up their classroom libraries. Some teachers turned the spines inward, so the titles couldn’t be seen. But Summer couldn’t make herself do either of those things. She was angry. 

Summer Boismier I'm not gonna take books out of my classroom because they center members of the LGBTQ+ community. I'm not gonna take books out of my classroom because a Black author wrote this. And that's what the law is asking us to do. 

Virginia Marshall So, Summer decided to take a stand. And her stand made that first day of school… also her last. 

Summer Boismier I could not do my job, and follow that law as well. So I did it. I did it. And I would do it again. I would. I know my students and it's worth it.  

Adwoa Adusei Book bans are nothing new. They’ve been a part of America’s narrative for about as long as our country has existed.  

Virginia Marshall But just in the first half of this year, the American Library Association recorded nearly 2,000 challenges to unique titles …. That’s the highest number in over 20 years. Censorship is on the rise.   

Adwoa Adusei From Brooklyn Public Library, this is Borrowed and Banned: a podcast series that tells the story of America’s ideological war with its bookshelves. I’m Adwoa Adusei, librarian at BPL. 

Virginia Marshall And I’m Virginia Marshall, BPL’s audio producer. Together, Adwoa and I are going to bring you seven episodes that tell the story of the teachers and librarians whose livelihoods are endangered when they speak up, the writers whose books have become political battleground, and the young people fighting for intellectual freedom.  

Adwoa Adusei With every episode of Borrowed and Banned, we’ll share steps you can take to combat censorship, no matter how old you are. To start off,  we’re looking at what happened in one Oklahoma town when their freedom to read was challenged. And how one teacher’s response caught the nation’s attention.  

[Cross promo]

Summer Boismier standing in front of BPL's Central Library in 2022.
(Gregg Richards, Brooklyn Public Library)

Virginia Marshall After the department meeting, Summer returned to her classroom. 

Summer Boismier And I utilized the heck out of that spinny chair at my desk, and I probably spun for a solid, like two hours. And you know, in that entire time, I'm sitting there thinking, what can I do? The answer was kind of obvious.  

[Sound of paper ripping]

Summer Boismier I spent that afternoon covering my shelves with butcher paper. I put that butcher paper up. And I, you know, again, I'm an English teacher, I love me a good caption. So I added one: “Books the state doesn't want you to read.” 


Virginia Marshall Summer went home. But all weekend, she couldn’t stop thinking about the books behind that butcher paper, the politicians who wanted them gone, and her students, who were about to get caught in the middle. 

Summer Boismier That's where the, the scrolling comes in. I came across a tweet from the Brooklyn Public Library about their Books Unbanned initiative.  

Adwoa Adusei Books Unbanned is a program that offers any student between the ages of 13 and 21 a library card, and access to BPL’s digital collection. With this card, teens can read anything – even the books that their state wants to remove from school and classroom libraries. You just have to go to this one webpage and request a card. When Summer saw that webpage, the gears started to turn. 

Summer Boismier I clicked the link and immediately I was like, I can do something with this. So put the link into a QR code, went to school the next week, printed the QR code, slapped it multiple places around the room, called it done. I knew what the potential consequences could be. I knew I could lose my job. You know, I did the cost benefit analysis and you gotta know your hills before you even walk into the classroom, because you're probably going to be asked to die on one of them at some point. That was my hill. 

[Classroom sound returns] 

Virginia Marshall The day was finally here. The first day of school. And Summer was ready to take a stand… but she was also prepared to do her standard first-day-of-school stuff. 

Summer Boismier It was more about introductions. So, here's me, here's your teacher. And I believe that lasagna is a sandwich. You're going to hear that a lot this year. And oh, by the way, um, you may have noticed the shelves are covered over with butcher paper. There's some bigoted legislation in our state that is trying to silence certain voices. Scan the QR code if you wish or don't. It doesn't matter to me.  

Virginia Marshall Looking back, Summer doesn’t recall anyone seeming uncomfortable with the butcher-papered bookshelves. 

Summer Boismier I can say though, that in several classes, there were a few students who kind of lingered after the fact, just to sort of let me know that they appreciated that QR code. 

Virginia Marshall It was only after her students left for the day that Summer found out that someone had filed a complaint against her. She was summoned to a meeting and was told she was being placed on administrative leave. 

Summer Boismier I decided after the meeting had ended, that it was best for, for me, for my students and my colleagues to, to step away and to resign. I can't do what I do under the guise of this law. And I just, it would be unfair to my students and my colleagues because it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when, uh, I would be pulled again. 

Heather Hall The first we heard about Summer posting a QR code … I didn't know anything about it. I didn't know this person. I just knew that this was a free speech issue and my kids needed to be able to share this information for kids who really needed representation in their books. 

Adwoa Adusei This is Heather Hall. She’s the owner of Green Feather Book Company, it’s a bookstore just down the street from Norman High School. And she’s a mom of two middle-school-aged kids in Norman.

Heather Hall I was born here. Most of my life has been spent here. It's a great place to have a bookstore and it's a great place, generally, it has been, in my lifetime, a great place to raise kids. 

Adwoa Adusei Heather had been following the news of HB 1775 that year … but this is when she realized how close to home it had gotten. 

Heather Hall It's terrifying. That's a terrifying place to be with middle school children… and so much of my entire identity is based on words and based on the community and the worlds that words can create.  

Adwoa Adusei As a bookstore owner, Heather is determined to defend access to all kinds of books. She sees it as a vital part of her job. Especially because local public libraries – just like schools –  are afraid of getting pushback for promoting banned books. And for her … it’s also personal. 

Heather Hall At least one of my children is on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum somewhere. They're young, they're figuring themselves out, so who knows? But but they really love queer literature. They love it, they love graphic novels. Girl from the Sea is their favorite book. From a parent's perspective, it has never been more clear to me that it's super important that kids see themselves in the stories that they're reading. 

Virginia Marshall Heather could stock these books herself … and she did have them in stock. But what about the young people who don’t have the resources to buy a book? Or the ones who might not want the adults in their lives seeing that they were reading a book about queer identity? So when she heard about Summer being placed on administrative leave for posting the Books Unbanned QR code in her classroom … Heather’s wheels started turning. 


Heather Hall So I went to a craft store and bought a button maker. By the way, your average run of the mill button maker is a terrible thing. But I bought one and we managed to make, I think something like 10 or 20 pins and get them to students around the community in different schools. 

Virginia Marshall Heather and a bunch of other parents in the community made pins and buttons and T-shirts… all with the Books Unbanned QR code on them. Heather says nobody was assigned any of these tasks. People just stepped up. Within weeks, the Books Unbanned QR code was all over Norman. It was on lawn signs outside people’s homes. The stickers and pins were everywhere. What started as a statement by one teacher, inside one classroom … it became a movement. 

Heather Hall The way the community came together was so significant and exactly what I expected from my community. You don't plan it. You don't wake up in the morning and say, I'm going to pick a fight today. You happen to be in the situation and for whatever reason, you are the person that's best positioned to have the conversation and to stand up. That's where I was. 

Adwoa Adusei Summer’s protest — and Heather’s activism — made national news.  

News Announcer 3 A bookstore owner is taking a stand by challenging banned books.

News Announcer 4 The frustration leading Heather Hall and other parents to raise enough money to get 150 T-shirts with the QR code from the Brooklyn Library.

News Announcer 5 Hall says she hopes to encourage more conversations between parents and kids.

Virginia Marshall Meanwhile, Summer was out of a job. And the fallout was only beginning. The state education secretary tweeted that Summer’s teaching credentials should be revoked.

Students in Brooklyn wearing the Books Unbanned QR code (get yours here!)
(Gregg Richards, Brooklyn Public Library)

News Announcer 6 Boismier reported death threats to the police after Secretary of Education Ryan Walters released this letter calling for Boismier's license to be pulled and accusing her of providing access to banned and pornographic materials.

Summer Boismier I've had of course, you know, the label "groomer," "pedophile," attached to my name by anonymous internet trolls and duly elected state officials. It's been not so subtly suggested that I should be tarred and feathered, that I should be imprisoned, sterilized. The state superintendent in Oklahoma is using me as an example of here's what happens when you publicly disagree with me. Nobody should have to experience any of those things ever. Certainly not for sharing what was already easily-accessible information about a library card. 


Adwoa Adusei What happened in Norman, Oklahoma is just one wave in a sea of book bans and challenges across the country. And the tide is rising by the day.  

News Announcer 7 We want to turn now to the sharp rise of book bans in America's schools and libraries.

News Announcer 8 The pace at which groups of parents and officials and lawmakers are challenging books in school libraries has reached a speed that many haven't seen in decades.

News Announcer 9 Educators are on edge, saying they're worried about being fired.

News Announcer 10 The new culture war raging across America is over books. 

Virginia Marshall But the news of censorship isn’t falling on deaf ears. Young people are listening, and they’re taking a stand. In Rio Rancho, New Mexico, a suburb of Albuquerque, Ivan Torres was just about to enter into finals week of his senior year of high school ... when he heard about a contentious city council meeting. 

Ivan Torres A small group of about three to five people initially organized an effort at city council to go and give public comment to try to challenge books with LGBTQ themes.

Virginia Marshall The books the group sought to remove from the public library included the Trans memoir Never a Girl, Always a Boy by Jo Ivester, and This Book is Gay, by Juno Dawson. In many ways, Ivan had been primed for this moment. This was April of 2023,  nearly a year after Summer made her stand. 

Ivan Torres I had heard about all of these book challenges on the news and these attempts broadly across the nation to ban materials and books. But I really never thought of it happening in my own community. 

Virginia Marshall Ivan sprang into action. He texted his friends.  

Ivan Torres I kind of organized myself and a couple of friends within 24 hours, it was very quick, to go to city council and give public comment as to why LGBTQ books need to remain within the public library. Everything that I'm talking about is happening within the vacuum of, like, finals week. So we were all incredibly busy and incredibly stressed. And so we were really all taking time out of our days to be there, you know, taking time out of studying to be there. That's just like the gravity of the situation.

Adwoa Adusei Ivan and his friends went to the city council meeting. They talked about the power these books had, and the need to feel like their stories were reflected in the books in their public library. Ivan had done his homework. He’d already read many of the books that were being challenged not just in Rio Rancho – but across the nation. 

Ivan Torres I had applied to Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned program before this had even happened, like the summer before. And so I undertook an effort to try to read as many banned books as I could … books like 1984, books like Animal Farm, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. That's actually what I wrote my college essay about, and the intersection of that and being a Hispanic American, but also dealing with colorism. They can try to ban or challenge these books in any place in the United States. But what they can't do is make you forget what you've already read. 

Virginia Marshall Ivan and his peers weren’t alone. At that first city council meeting, the room was full. Community members of all ages spoke in support of the books ... and in support of the library, too. And it didn’t stop there. 

Ivan Torres This went on for about two or three meetings until eventually, I think the city councilors got a little tired of it. By the third meeting, the city councilors had drafted up a resolution to finally put this to an end and say that the city council supports the Rancho Public Library's freedom to read ... but also deferring to people that have in most cases post-graduate degrees in library sciences to decide what is appropriate.

Adwoa Adusei This is a story of victory. But it’s also the story of a group of young people who read the books and were brave enough to take action. Because what you read and say and do does matter.  

Virginia Marshall It’s important to us that you, our listeners, come away from this series with a better understanding of how these books are being challenged and banned, the groups behind these challenges, and the state laws that are threatening our intellectual freedom.  

Adwoa Adusei But it’s just as important that you know that you can do something to push back, to make sure our democracy runs the way it’s supposed to. As a final act of defiance before he graduated, Ivan took a page out of Summer’s book, so to speak. 

Ivan Torres My last couple days of high school, I just took the Brooklyn Public Libraries Books Unbanned program poster and just plastered all over every single bulletin board that was in my high school. And that was my way of saying you can be against it, but you can't stop it. 

Virginia Marshall Ivan is headed off to college in the fall. But his first semester won’t just be freshman seminars and all-night study sessions. He’ll also be running a campaign. 

Adwoa Adusei After everything he experienced as a student in Rio Rancho, Ivan decided to run for school board. 

Virginia Marshall He says that his motivation comes not just from the frustration he has with his education, but also from his family. 

Ivan Torres My abuelita was the original immigrant that came to the United States in my family. She says, "Mi hijo, if not me, then who?" If not you, who is going to speak up? And I think that's something that broadly people across the spectrum need to realize. You know, you can't just be pissed off and angry in politics. You have to try to do something. 

[Theme music] 

Adwoa Adusei So, let’s take Ivan’s advice. We want to ask you to do something. Get a library card. 

Virginia Marshall This one is really simple. Google the public library in your area and visit the branch if you can. Lots of public library systems have cards you can apply for online, so you don’t even have to leave your house. Now more than ever, it’s important to use our public institutions, to invest in them and make sure they stay relevant and useful. You can do that by first getting a library card. And, if you’re between the ages of 13 and 21, you can apply for a Books Unbanned e-library card from Brooklyn Public Library. Seattle Public Library and Boston Public Library have Books Unbanned cards now too! You can apply for those up to age 26. And, if you live anywhere in California and you’re between the ages of 13 and 18, you can apply to LA County Library’s Books Unbanned program. If you’re an adult who wants to support these programs, visit BKLYN Library [dot] org [slash] books [dash] unbanned to donate and learn more.

Adwoa Adusei And, October 1st through 7th is Banned Books Week, a national time of awareness around censorship and the freedom to read. There will be lots of articles, reports, and actions you can take, including one of our own! 

Virginia Marshall In order to increase awareness about the importance of reading whatever you want, New York City libraries want people across the country to take a picture of themselves reading a book in public (it can be a banned book, or just a book you really love)  … and post it to social media with the hashtag #FreedomtoRead. That day of action will be October 4th. But you can start planning out what you want to read and where.

Adwoa Adusei I’m thinking I’ll be listening to Toni Morrison read Beloved on my morning commute.

Virginia Marshall Ooh, nice. I’m probably going to read Flamer by Mike Curato ...  probably in the park. We’ll be sharing action steps and resources like these with every episode. Sign up for our newsletter to get all of our upcoming episodes and action steps delivered to your inbox. Go to BKLYN Library [dot] org [slash] e-newsletter to learn how. We’ll be releasing one episode every other week until the end of the year.

Adwoa Adusei Before we leave you today, we also wanted to say that Summer’s story isn’t over. She’s still fighting censorship and dealing with the ripple effects of her act of resistance in Oklahoma. But she’s living in Brooklyn! She’s actually our colleague now. Her official title is Teen Initiatives Project Manager, and you’ll hear more from her in a later episode.

Summer Boismier I would also say to students out there, if you are able, speak up. Just because the adults are telling you that certain stories are not appropriate for you to read, adults can be wrong. Tell them. 


Adwoa Adusei Borrowed and Banned is a production of Brooklyn Public Library and receives support from the Metropolitan New York Library Council’s Equity in Action Grant.  

Virginia Marshall This episode was written by me and the team at Goat Rodeo, including Rebecca Seidel and Megan Nadolski. It was hosted by me and Adwoa Adusei, and produced by Rebecca Seidel. Our Borrowed team includes Ali Post, Fritzi Bodenheimer, Robin Lester Kenton and Damaris Olivo. Ashley Gill and Jennifer Proffit run our social media. Lauren Rochford helps with the emails. John Snowden designed our logo. 

Adwoa Adusei The Books Unbanned team at BPL includes Summer Boismier, Jackson Gomes, Nick Higgins, Leigh Hurwitz, Karen Keys, Leigh Hurwitz, and Amy Mikel.

Borrowed and Banned is a production of Brooklyn Public Library and receives support from the Metropolitan New York Library Council’s Equity in Action Grant and Goat Rodeo.