March 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Banned Books Week: Celebrate the Right to Read

Since 1982, Banned Books Week offers an annual opportunity during the last week of September for librarians and other freedom fighters around the country to celebrate banned and challenged books, shine a spotlight on censorship, and honor those heroes working for open access to materials and the right to read for all. This year’s campaign is proceeding in some unique and wonderful ways in both public and school libraries. How are you marking the occasion?

Challenging censorship
Attempts to ban books continue to be rampant in this country. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there have been more than 17,700 attempts to ban a book in the U.S. since 1990, when the ALA began to track such challenges. Since the inception of Banned Books Week, more than 11,300 books have been challenged. And in 2012 alone, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF), with many more estimated to have gone unreported.

The OIF maintains numerous lists of the most frequently challenged books by year and decade. The yearly list, which tracks the previous year’s top ten challenged books, debuts each spring.

For 2012, those top challenged titles were “Captain Underpants” (series) by Dav Pilkey, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian  by Sherman Alexie, Thirteen Reasons Why  by Jay Asher, Fifty Shades of Grey  by E. L. James, And Tango Makes Three  by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, The Kite Runner  by Khaled Hosseini, Looking for Alaska  by John Green, “Scary Stories” (series) by Alvin Schwartz, The Glass Castle  by Jeanette Walls, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

“The ability to read, speak, think and express ourselves freely is a fundamental freedom that sustains and upholds our democratic society,” says  ALA President Barbara Stripling. She notes, “Banned Books Week serves as an opportunity to remind all of us that the freedom to choose books for ourselves and our family is a right, not a privilege.”

To further your knowledge of these issues, School Library Journal  has put together a permanent resource page on banned books and censorship, which gathers in one place links to our most recent news coverage on banned and challenged books, interviews with oft-banned authors, feature articles on censorship issues, and blogs and columns that offer tools on showcasing challenged titles and fighting censorship. We aim to keep this page continually updated throughout the year.

Teacher librarian Allyson Bogie’s Banned Books Week display at Portola Middle Schoo, Berkeley, CA.

Celebrating heroes
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, the National Association of College Stores, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the PEN American Center.

These organizations have selected “outstanding individuals and groups who have stood up to defend their freedom to read” this year—students as well as librarians and other educators—and are honoring them this week by bestowing the tile of Heroes of Banned Books.

For the past few days, ALA has been sponsoring its 2013 Virtual Read-Out of favorite banned and challenged books; since the read-out began in 2011, more than 1,500 videos have been submitted, including many by bestselling authors.  Sherman Alexie, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Khaled Hosseini are among those contributing new videos to the project this year.

And for the first time this year, Twitter parties have been helping promote the message of Banned Books Week. Supporters have been urged to tweet using #bannedbooksweek.

Reference librarian Sarah Uthoff’s display at the Kirkwood (IA) Community College Library.

Reaching your readers
Hundreds of libraries and bookstores are hosting events this week. SLJ has been querying librarians and, as we can see from just a sampling of feedback, the option of creating displays of oft-banned books is a popular way to honor these titles—and attract more teen and young adult readers!

For example, Allyson Bogie, teacher librarian at Portola Middle School in Berkeley, CA, has created a countertop display of banned books for her library. She also tucks a special bookmark into each title to encourage her students to use the card catalog and to read and then review challenged works.

Sarah Uthoff, a reference librarian, has also created an impressive display of banned books for all ages at the Kirkwood (IA) Community College Library, and has been blogging about censorship. Lisa Mandina, a Gladstone, MO-based high school teacher and YA book blogger, has also created a display in her library, and blogged this week. In addition, she is raffling oft-banned YA literature.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence (KS) Public Library has created a unique collection of Banned Books Trading Cards to honor patrons’ favorite books. A call to artists in the community resulted in 99 entries from artists of all ages, and all the submissions are on display on the library’s site. Of those, seven were selected to become limited edition trading cards, one for each day of Banned Books Week. Patrons may stop by the library every day to complete their sets, or purchase a full set online.

Another idea comes to us from the Oak Park (IL) Public Library, where the staff takes “Caught Reading Banned Books” mug shots of patrons posing with their favorite books.

And at the National Coalition Against Censorship, its Kids’ Right to Read Project has put together a free downloadable page detailing the top Myths of Banned Books Week, drawn in the style of a pulp comic. The grassroots project maintains a robust advocacy site of news and activities all year long.

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson ( is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.