From the American Library Association website :
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
I have a librarian friend in Texas who has posted pictures of what she and her fellow librarians have put together for their patrons to raise awareness and celebrate this week, which has made me curious to see what libraries in my area are doing for this event.
VISIT TO KENT PUBLIC LIBRARY ON 9/27
I work across the street from this library, so I took advantage of my lunch break to make it my first stop on my library tour. I decided I would pretend I was a patron unaware of a Banned Books Week – I wanted to evaluate how effective a display would be to the casual visitor.
This part of the city of Kent has always been an odd mixture -for example, this library is a beautiful brick building well maintained and manicured, but outside the homeless huddle under its covered walkways. I’d had students walking to school tell me that they get catcalled or propositioned by some unsavory individuals who frequent the library parking lot. Often you see police cars just sitting by the library entrance…you get the sense that the employees in here have dealt with some interesting characters and situations.
When I walked in I saw no obvious signs that a celebration of Banned Books Week was being observed. I decided to check out all of the “display” areas where there might be some mention of banned books or censorship.
There seemed to be two types of display spaces for books in this library (not counting the children’s section). There were three staggered sets of this first type of display, but no opportunity to really personalize or specialize this display area. No explanation was given for selections placed in this “Choice Reads” display, which I found left me uninterested in the titles that had been selected. I did check the titles and didn’t find any that stood out as either a controversial title that had protested in the past, were on the list of most contested books in 2015, or were classic titles associated with censorship in general (i.e. “Fahrenheit 451”).
This was the second display type. There were two prominent locations – one for the fiction section and one for the non-fiction section. I liked that these had an explanation of the books on display (the flier at the top), but was disappointed that none of the selections had to do with banned books. The display for fiction offered titles from the library book club (which I applaud this approach to promoting) and the non-fiction was a celebration of Hispanic History Month (this seemed very appropriate, as non-fiction would have been an odd space to promote Banned Books Week ).
I checked the children and teen spaces and found that reoccurring group/activity meetings were promoted in any space where fliers were posted. The sense you get is that this library has a heavy emphasis on community involvement.
The last place I checked for postings was in the hallway you walk through before entering the library itself, which is filled on both sides with fliers. Again, there was nothing here about Banned Books Week but lots about clubs and classes being offered through the library. I checked the specific list of programs in September and Banned Books Week was also not mentioned.
I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see Banned Books Week mentioned anywhere – but, to their credit, there were so many programs being offered that every free space was already FULL! So I can see why events like Banned Books Week aren’t promoted, there’s already so much going on!!
VISIT TO COVINGTON LIBRARY ON 9/28
I brought my girlfriend with me before work to go visit the Covington Library. Katie grew up in this area, so this library is the one she grew up with. She kept telling me it had “spaceship lights,” which made me curious what she was talking about….
Ooohhhh ….yep, I totally see the spaceships!
Upon walking inside the library, I checked again along the entrance corridor for information about Banned Books Week. The displays with information were similar to the Kent Library.
On the one side, they have boards with community and library information. I didn’t see any notices posted here about Banned Books Week.
The generic “Choice Reads” display was on the other side. Still no room for personalizing why these books are selected, I feel that if they took an approach where they had it be each librarian’s choice reads for the month (and a little bio and picture) it would make it more engaging. I have a feeling though that isn’t a branch-specific decision but one for the whole King County Library system.
They also had this freestanding sign next to the “Choice Reads,” labelled “Library Information.” A book sale was promoted on one side, a teen club on the other.
Walking inside the library, it was easily twice the size of the Kent Library with much more space for dedicated reading sections. The children’s section in particular stood out to me, but I’ll mention that again in a bit.
Still searching for a Banned Books Week display, I found the fiction section to check if they had a similar display as I found in Kent. And they did!
The focus for the book selection was “New and Shiny!” It was pretty generic.
According to Katie this library was recently renovated, so it has more features than the Kent location. I noticed there were many more opportunities for posting information and displays than the Kent locations – at the end of every bookshelf was space for posters and fliers.
Yet, nothing about Banned Books Week – I was ready to leave in defeat.
However, Katie is an extrovert and insisted we should ask someone if there might be something we had missed. So we did. And lo and behold, hidden in the fiction section was a display dedicated to Banned Books Week!
It was a bit hidden, but still very much there! The librarian who escorted us over lingered to share her favorite reason a book was banned (it was “Hop on Pop” that was challenged, and the reason was “encourages violence against fathers”) then left us to browse.
I loved the poster and the sleeve that slid on the book covers with the reason why the books had been banned. I also liked that picture books were on display with the chapter books – the contrast of happy pictures against the bold “BANNED” sleeve made it very visually interesting and likely to catch the eye of the passerby.
To celebrate Banned Books Week, Katie and I decided we should sit down and browse through one of the titles. We picked “King & King,” which was banned for “undermining religious freedom.”
It was a picture book about a prince whose mother wants him to marry a princess but he falls in love with a prince and marries him instead. It’s not deep or complicated, simply he and the prince see each other, fall in love, and on the next page are getting married with the queen in attendance. An appropriate one for us to pick 😉
After we finished with our book, I commented to Katie about the children’s section being impressive and she told me a little about the programs that they offer. I mentioned that for one of my classes I need to interview a children’s librarian but will need to ask for info on how to contact one because I couldn’t find that information online and she said “well why don’t we go ask them right now?” We went back to the same librarian and asked for the children’s librarian’s information, which the librarian started preparing, but then I mentioned I was a MLIS student and their approach changed – she was actually there so they walked around looking for her, then introduced me. As soon as I mentioned being an MLIS student to her she asked if I was online or in-person, so it seems she’s familiar with UW’s program! She was very nice and also interested in me! We set up a day and time to meet so I can interview her. I left with a HUGE smile on my face – I am SOO excited about learning more about what librarians do and becoming part of the world of libraries!
I wish I had time to visit more libraries and in different library systems, but unfortunately I was too busy…next year, I will plan in advance!