I almost hate to write this post because I feel it is so obligatory for a librarian at this time of year. But I also love Banned Books Week and have since before I earned my MLIS. So here goes…
Banned Books Week was created 30 years ago by the American Library Association as a way to highlight the threat of censorship to libraries and schools and celebrate the “freedom to read.” People are often shocked that books are still being banned in America which demonstrates why celebrating BBW is still important 30 years later.
This year I created a display specific to my state – highlighting the challenges and bans that have occurred (as recorded by the ALA) since the 1950s. Several books have been banned/reclassified even since the turn of the century. Last year during my first BBW as an official librarian I had several students ask about Iowa but as a relatively new state resident I could not adequately answer their questions on the spot so I thought driving this issue closer to home might have more of an impact and I am proud to say that has proven to be true. It was also interesting to read the reasoning for the bans/challenges in Iowa over time – language moved from being very religious to focusing more on “morals” which really is just code for religion but I think demonstrates some recognition that times have changed.
The other display in the library included the Top 10 List of 2011 Challenged Titles and a sampling of titles the library owns that have been challenged/ban across the country at some point. The flames are not a new idea (Google Image Search and Pinterest will yield several examples) but I am very pleased with my fire and it definitely grabs patrons’ attention.
Finally, I wanted to get the students, faculty, and staff more involved with Banned Books Week. So I decided to take an activity to them. It had to be simple enough that they could finish it within a few minutes otherwise turnout would be lackluster. I decided to give everyone a chance to share one of their favorite banned/challenged books so I printed out a line drawing of an open book and asked people to sign their names on one page and their favorite book on the other. We then displayed these in the campus break room so everyone could see and learn what titles are censored and how many people enjoy reading those books. So far Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seem to the be most common.
I am very proud of how my campus community has participated and shown an interest in Banned Books Week this year. They seem engaged and a number of students have stopped me in the halls to ask why a certain book was banned (The Lorax? Detrimental for the forestry industry?) or why people want to ban books in general which opens a great (if brief) conversation into how libraries are supposed to be an equalizer in access to information and personal responsibility when it comes to reading habits for yourself and your family.
Libraryekeeper’s Top 5 Banned/Challenged Books
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
3. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
4. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
5. The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins