5 Quick Ideas for Banned Books Week

As an academic institution on the semester system, Banned Books Week tends to be the first big, multi-day event of the programming cycle for the staff at the William H. Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount University. Outside of First-Year Orientation, this is one of our first opportunities to make an impression on our students.

In recent years, we’ve attempted to host day-long read-outs in and around the library. But because Banned Books Week occurs so early in the semester, it’s difficult to pull in students and faculty who have been gone all summer and still need a few extra weeks to settle into campus life. For this year's Banned Books Week, instead of planning a single, large-scale event (like the 24-hour read-out), we are planning to host a series of smaller programs to raise awareness about challenged and banned books on campus.

Banned Books Week poster: Stand Up for Your Right to Read
A selfie booth, read-out videos and swag giveaways are a few easy ways to celebrate Banned Books Week in your library.

Faculty read-out videos

If there is one trick I’ve learned as an outreach and communications librarian, it’s that students pay more attention to our messaging if it is delivered via faculty. This year, we are identifying one faculty member per college to host a video read-out of selections from their favorite banned or challenged book. The read-outs will be recorded in their office and live-streamed to our social media platforms during Banned Books Week. The faculty will also talk about why it is important for students to read the particular title they selected. 

On-campus selfie booth and choral read

In the past, we have had success simply wheeling a cart of banned books into the middle of campus and inviting students that pass by to identify their favorite or familiar titles. This year, we’ll also encourage them to post selfies with their book to the library’s Instagram page. We will set up a table with snacks, t-shirts (see below), information about the library’s upcoming events, and a way to sign up for the library’s various communication outlets.

Additionally, we are planning to host a single choral read of one book (most likely "I Am Jazz"). We will promote the event widely in the days leading up to the choral read as well as at the selfie booth. In order to make this work well, we plan to create a core group of readers (and practice ahead of time) who will be the principal voices of the choral read-out. We can then invite students who stop by to grab a copy of the book and read it aloud with us. We’ll purchase extra copies of the book to use during the read (which can then be donated to local schools). Of course, we’ll also live-stream the event.

Library-branded t-shirts

It is not unusual for me to see college seniors wearing shirts from their first-year orientation four years ago. Even I have t-shirts from my college years that I still wear around the house and to the gym. So this year we are planning to design and print a small selection of Banned Books Week- and LMU Library-themed t-shirts to hand out to students on campus (with the encouragement to wear them during Banned Books Week). This also fulfills my secondary objective to eventually get a library-branded t-shirt into the hands of every student, staff and faculty member on campus, so this is a baby step in that direction.

Redacted titles book display

We have a section of our lobby that can be used to display customized, hand-selected collections from our stacks. We call ours the Explore section (for Explore Staff Picks). Similar to the Blind Date with a Book displays that many libraries host in February, we are planning to “redact” the titles of challenged or banned books by wrapping the covers in yellow caution tape and affixing labels that indicate the reason (or “charge”) that these books have been withdrawn from the collection. As an added incentive, students who check out a book from the collection will receive a free t-shirt (see above) while supplies last.

Banned book cover exhibition

One quick and easy way to highlight challenged or banned books is to print large reproductions of famous book covers on foam core. These can be elegantly displayed throughout the library and easily affixed to almost any surface. We like to organize our covers according to the reason for the book's challenge: graphic violence, obscenities, etc. Our newest category this past year was “ethnic resentment” and included many of the titles recently challenged in the Tucson Unified School District. The diversity of colors and designs that many of these books offer (especially mid-20th-century cover designs) can add vibrancy and life to any space in the library.

So that is what we are planning for Banned Book Week this year. What are you planning?