What are your plans for the week of September 26th through October 2nd? Be sure to leave room on your calendar for library activities and contests as we celebrate Banned Books Week. But first, maybe you are not sure what Banned Books Week is all about. Are we really banning books? Will there be a bonfire? Actually, it is quite the opposite; it is all about celebrating our freedom to read without censorship. Books on all topics are available in our libraries and bookstores to anyone who wants to read them. Try to imagine not having this freedom and choice. That freedom, that we take for granted, is worth protecting and celebrating, and is precisely why we set aside a week every year to do just that.
However, not everyone agrees with this idea. In fact, every year, many attempts are made to ban and remove books from schools and libraries. Usually, the reasons cited have to do with race, profanity, violence, gender, the supernatural, and other controversial topics considered inappropriate, especially for children and young adults. Parents are often the ones who initiate these challenges in an effort to protect their children. Favorite targets in the past were the popular Harry Potter series, Goosebumps series, and Junie B. Jones series. Books written for older readers have been challenged too, especially those that are studied in high school and college classrooms.
The American Library Association (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom follows up on and investigates all challenges, as reported to them by libraries, schools, and the media, and then compiles a list of the ten most challenged books each year. Some books appear on the list of challenged books year after year, such as Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Bluest Eye. During 2020, 273 books were challenged, with these landing in the top ten. Scroll on down the page to see the top ten lists for the last 20 years along with the reason for each challenge. The books on these lists likely are only a fraction of the total number of book challenges, as most go undocumented and unreported. A challenge refers to any attempt to remove a book from a library, while banning is the actual removal of a book, which is very rare, thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who take a stand against it.
Banned Books Week got its start in 1982 due to a sudden increase in the number of book challenges and protests. One famous case, Island Trees School District v. Pico, even made it to the Supreme Court. Every year since, libraries across the country have put up displays and organized activities celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week also reminds us of the dangers of censorship and the barriers it creates. This year’s theme says it all, “Books Unite Us; Censorship Divides Us.” So, in the spirit of that theme, the library offers these activities and contests. Check the library website during Banned Books Week for details on how to participate.
Instagram Rock Activity. Painted rocks with a banned books theme will be hidden around campus. When you spot one, photograph yourself with it. Then replace the rock and post your photo in Instagram, #bulibrary.
Puzzle Jar Contest. Stop by the library any time during Banned Books Week to guess the number of puzzle pieces in the jar. Closest guess wins a book themed jigsaw puzzle.
Sidewalk Chalk Activity. Come by the library main entrance on Thursday, Sept. 30th, grab a piece of chalk, and add to our sidewalk banned books inspired artwork. Goody bags provided to all who participate.
Library displays and banned author of the year. If you are in the neighborhood, check out our library Banned Books Week displays, especially the one dedicated to R.L. Stine, the library’s featured banned author this year. He is most famous for the Goosebumps series, written for children, which has often landed on the “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books” list.
Create Unity Contest. This is a perfect contest for anyone who does not live close enough to participate in the on-campus activities. Use any medium to illustrate unity, such as a poem, artwork, a photo, a story, and so on. Be creative, but keep it clean. Submit through library website Sept. 26 through Oct. 9. Best submission wins an R.L. Stine book.
Read more about the week and the books that have been challenged here: