The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression is using this year's Banned Books Week, September 25 to October 2, to continue its crusade against (what else?) the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act doesn't attempt to do anything remotely like trying to keep certain books off school library shelves. But ABFFE President Chris Finan explained the connection this way: "The purpose of Banned Books Week is to celebrate the freedom to read, broadly speaking. There's no question that since the passage of the Patriot Act our focus has been on protecting the right to read privately." So, while there's no indication Attorney General John Ashcroft wants to keep kids from reading about Huck Finn or Harry Potter, booksellers would prefer he not pry into anyone's book-buying habits. And they figure this is the best way to educate their customers on the subject.
Andy Graves, owner of the Happy Bookseller in Columbia, S.C., said his customers are used to seeing a banned books display in the front of the store every year and that it always generates conversation.
"So now this will give them a logical point where they can begin to explore the various aspects of the Patriot Act," he said.
In a flyer sent to American Booksellers Association members, ABFFE outlines a campaign strategy for the week that includes showing "Reading Your Rights," a 26-minute documentary about the Tattered Cover Book Store's successful fight against a search warrant for customer records. Matthew Miller, Tattered Cover's general manager, said the Patriot Act as well as continued challenges to certain titles continue to make Banned Books Week relevant. "The purpose is to raise awareness of the issue of freedom of expression. If anything, we need it more now than ever," he said.
ABFFE is providing the flyer for free, but the video will cost booksellers $35 in DVD or $30 in VHS. It can be ordered at www.abffe.com. Finan suggests booksellers make the documentary the centerpiece of a program that includes bringing in an expert such as a librarian, lawyer or law professor to expand on the subject and answer questions. In addition, the American Library Association is selling resource kits to help booksellers and librarians mark banned books week. The kits can be ordered by calling (800) 545-2411, ext. 4220, or by going to the ALA Web site, www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/bbwkit/bbwkit.htm. The kits cost $55, proving once again that freedom isn't free.