Last year the sponsors behind Banned Books Week—organizations including the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the National Association of College Stores, and Pen America—began giving the three-decades-old promotion a makeover for the digital age. While bookstores and libraries continued to create striking displays of frequently challenged titles, the sponsors hired Maggie Jacoby as a part-time coordinator to work on the program year-round and to enhance its social media presence.
As a result, the Banned Books Week website drew more than 92,000 users and had more than 207,000 page views in 2014; the celebration also gained 60% more followers on Twitter. But the coalition, which now has 13 sponsors, sees further potential. “There’s so much room for growth,” Jacoby said. “We’re ready to take [BBW] to the next level of coordination and collaboration.” To do so, Banned Books Week 2015 (September 27–October 3) will, for the second consecutive year, focus on a single category—this time young adult books, which dominates the list of the 311 challenged books in 2014, led by Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. (In 2014, graphic novels was the category of focus.) “There have been very serious flaps over why YA books have very dark themes,” noted Judy Platt, chair of the BBW coordinating committee and director of Free Expression Advocacy at AAP.
While much of the focus of BBW is obviously on books, ALA is just as concerned about the right to read unfiltered content online. “Fighting censorship is one of the key reasons people join ALA,” said Barbara Jones, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “We’ve expanded our mission [to oppose censorship] no matter where content comes from.” On September 30, in the middle of BBW, ALA will celebrate Banned Websites Awareness Day as well.
For this year’s celebration, ABA distributed display kits to 450 booksellers, triple what it gave out two years ago. The coalition and its sponsors are planning a number of events, including a keynote event at Housing Works Bookstore in New York City moderated by David Shipler (Freedom of Speech). In West Hollywood, Calif., WeHo Reads will hold a celebration on September 26, which includes actors reading from banned children’s books plus a panel on racism.
Publishers are also creating activities. Random House, for one, is encouraging readers to post banned-book selfies and tag @RHLibrary. Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group is offering discounts on their frequently banned titles, and Quirk Books is posting printable warning labels on its website that say “WARNING: May Cause Intellectual Growth and Symptoms of Empathy.”
The effectiveness of BBW may be hard to gauge. “However,” said Chris Finan, director of American Booksellers for Free Expression, “I think that awareness of book banning has grown over the years, and Banned Books Week plays an important role in that. Most Americans do not see censorship as a problem. [The event] draws attention to the fact that books do get challenged and banned. It also demonstrates the broad range of books affected, including many titles that are beloved. Hopefully, as a result of that, people are more likely to pay attention and to speak out when books are challenged in their town.”