Every year, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Books Week. It’s a week that has been observed for 40 years, highlighting historic and current attempts to ban books from schools and libraries in an effort to censor materials students have access to. Earlier this year, I wrote about student rights to access books if you want an in-depth look at what is and isn’t legally permitted. Members of the book community among librarians, teachers, booksellers, journalists and book lovers of all types unite in support of the freedom to express ideas and access information of all types, even those that are unpopular or contrary to the status quo. The books that are in the spotlight during Banned Books Week are books that have been banned or targeted for removal in schools and libraries.
This year it is from September 18 to 24 and the the theme is Books Unite Us.
The importance of observation
The heat on censorship has grown in America. Last month in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where I teach and work, a case challenging the obscenity of Gender Queer and A court of mist and fury was fired. In this case, the challenger was not only trying to have these books banned from schools and libraries, but also to prevent booksellers in Virginia Beach from providing them to their customers. Public libraries face threats to funding and collection development.
It is more important than ever to speak out and defend citizens’ right to read. While people who want to ban or censor books are in the minority, 29% of voters want to challenge books in public libraries and 33% want to remove books from school library shelves, these percentages can have a big impact on a community if they’re the only ones making noise.
Observing Banned Books Week reminds us to educate ourselves about the books that are being challenged. The American Library Association has a list of the best 10 disputed books per year. The lists are constantly changing and you might be surprised at the books that are there from year to year. Gender Queerpublished in 2019, was the most disputed book of 2021 and in 2020 it was lemon balm, published in 2015. These books were published years before they were most disputed. The 2021 and 2020 lists include books that many consider classics such as The bluest eye, Kill a mockingbirdand Of mice and Men.
things you can do
- Start a forbidden book club at your local or school library. If that sounds daunting, I’ve written a how-to guide to starting a club with teens.
- Join United against book bans campaign, where you can join other readers in the fight against censorship. They have one toolbox with talking points and social media tools.
- Host a forbidden books week quiz at the library. There is a program kit already made for you. All you have to do is fill in the form with your name and email, then you can download the kit.
- Write a letter using the resources of the Dear Banned Author letter writing campaign. They provide printable postcard templates. If writing a physical letter isn’t your thing, they also have tips for tweeting.
- Discover the ALAs Free downloads for this year’s celebration. They have posters, infographics, and the 10 hardest books of 2021.
- Follow BannedBooksWeek on Twitter. Not only will you be up to date with all the latest happenings of the week each year, but they will also post articles on censorship, posting ideas, and the good things libraries are doing in their communities.
- Create a virtual escape room or lockdown situation like this one of Algonquin Region Public Library District. The player must answer questions about the library, collection, and banned books in order to be entered to win a prize. Using Google Forms, a similar game could easily be created for your friends or library patrons.
- Learn more about the honorary president 2022 of Banned Books Week George M. Johnson, author of Not all boys are blue.
There are virtual programs throughout Banned Books Week.
The Riot Kelly Jensen has written a great guide on how to make a good banned book presentation. She mentions that it is important not only to highlight the classic books that come to mind when we think of banned books, but also to include recent releases, to have advocacy materials available with displays , focus on celebrating intellectual freedom and be sure to include a call to action for customers.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a few sources of ideas on physical displays as well. Kelly suggests having an empty display rack of books, with only book racks, for a big impact on what censorship might realistically look like without a defense of intellectual freedom. The ALA has a list of ideas for displays ranging from locked boxes to burnt banners. Also see the Banned Books Week Pinterest Page with creative visuals to spark ideas.
Whichever way you choose to celebrate, I hope you’ll make sure to take action this month to support your local or school library. Whether it’s learning about student rights to access books or how to contact your lawmakers about book bans. Your voice and your vote matter.