Happy Banned Books Week! This year marks our twenty-ninth year of celebrating the freedom to read, an issue that’s as vital and relevant to libraries today as ever. Banned Books Week is an opportunity to raise awareness about the role of libraries in fighting censorship and providing access to diverse materials—meeting the information needs of everyone in the community and allowing individuals to choose for themselves and their own families the material that’s best for them.
This year, we want to highlight some libraries that are offering particularly innovative Banned Books Week programming. It was hard to select only a few, because we’ve heard about so many wonderful programs!
The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), via its Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund, awarded grants to seven organizations this year in support of Read-Out events, where participants read aloud from their favorite banned or challenged books. The Iowa City Public Library was awarded the largest FTRF grant for its innovative approach and variety of offerings. Their Carol Spaziani Intellectual Freedom Festival will include film screenings, a Read-Out, a keynote, and a “Rolling Read Out” during the University of Iowa Homecoming Parade.
“Join the Banned: Celebrate Your Freedom to Read” will be a four-hour program at the Santa Monica (CA) Public Library featuring authors, actors, and other celebrities and community members reading banned and challenged books. The library will also offer a photo booth called “Get Booked,” where participants can get a mug shot-style photo with them and a banned book; an acting scene by local teens; and a closing concert by the Harry Potter-inspired band, The Remus Lupins.
At the El Dorado and Placer County law libraries, a program titled “An Obscene Evening in the Library: Obscenity Law and Literature” will put a law library spin on banned books by exploring the origins of obscenity laws in the United States and tracing the impact that these laws have had upon literary expression and libraries. The program is divided into two segments. The first segment will feature local actors performing selections from two literary works that have been challenged in court under obscenity laws: Howl by Allen Ginsberg and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. In the second segment, a local law professor will discuss the origin and development of obscenity laws in the United States.
The Lawrence (KS) Public Library will celebrate the freedom to read with a Banned Books Week panel discussion on Naked Lunch, written by former Lawrence resident William S. Burroughs—the last book subjected to a major censorship trial after it was banned in Boston in 1962. James Grauerholz, executor of Burroughs’ literary estate; Burroughs’ friend Wayne Propst; attorney Gene Balloun of Shook, Hardy, and Bacon LLP; and Robert Eye, attorney and board member of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri will present a panel discussion on the banning of Burroughs’ work and the subsequent court cases during the 1960s as well as more recent bans and challenges.
In addition to reading banned books, some libraries will celebrate by dressing up in the style of favorite banned characters! Cabarrus County (NC) Public Library—Kannapolis Branch will host a Read-Out with a local author, as well as a costume contest for the best banned book character. Movies on banned books will also be shown at the library throughout the week.
The Rockingham (VT) Free Public Library is celebrating with an exciting live display. With a nod to circus exhibits, “Watch Live Humans Read” will fill the window of Works on Paper Studio. Looking through a circus poster, passers-by will see a cozy vignette of an easy chair, lamp, books, and local folks of all ages caught in the act of reading books that have been banned and challenged. This display with living, breathing, reading people will be ongoing during the week. Locals are encouraged to contact the library to schedule hours to participate as a model reader.
To salute the freedom to read what we choose, the North Carolina State University Libraries has released “Banned Books SoundWave”—a website filled with selections from banned books read by a broad spectrum of members of the university community. On the “Banned Books SoundWave” site, you can hear Chancellor Randy Woodson read from The Grapes of Wrath, baseball coach Elliott Avent from Gone with the Wind, College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Jeffery Braden from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences Dean Dan Solomon from Go Tell It on the Mountain,as well as over a dozen students, faculty, and staff reading their choices from the often surprising titles that have been challenged or actually kept from the public. The website also gives a brief synopsis of why works on this long list have been challenged or banned.
In addition to these few wonderful programs, many other Banned Books Week events around the country can be found at the Banned Books Week library and bookstore events page. Please visit the site or contact ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom to share your Banned Books Week ideas and success stories with us!