Step 1: Celebrate Banned Books Week

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Each September, librarians, teachers, and students celebrate their right to read and fight censorship by observing Banned Books Week (BBW). For 2016, BBW will occur from September 25 to October 1. Using the tagline, “Stand up for your right to read,” the 2016 Banned Books Week theme focuses on diverse content, which is defined as those resources that contain:

  • “non-white main and/or secondary characters;
  • LGBT main and/or secondary characters;
  • disabled main and/or secondary characters;
  • issues about race or racism;
  • LGBT issues;
  • issues about religion, which encompass in this situation the Holocaust and terrorism;
  • issues about disability and/or mental illness; and
  • non-Western settings, in which the West is North America and Europe” (ALA 2015, 15).

9 of top 10 diverse_Infographic_diversityNine of the top ten most frequently challenged books for 2015 meet the diverse content definition including Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter and I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. What’s your favorite from the list? How many appear in your library collection?

Because Banned Books Week has been observed for over 25 years, there are many resources available to librarians and teachers. These include:

  • The ALA official Banned Books Week website with its many resources for librarians:
  • ALA’s Bookstore sells promotional items such as posters, bookmarks, buttons, and t-shirts to help you observe BBW. Check them out!
  • Most useful of all is ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom free webinar “Fifty Shades of Banned Book Week” presented on August 10 and recorded. Watch the 40-minute archived program presented by OIF Assistant Director Kristin Pekoll to net 50 tips and resources for a bang-up Banned Books Week celebration. Especially interesting are the ideas for creating BBW Bingo games, crossword puzzles, and trading cards; events such as BBW trivia nights and BBW speed dating events; and displays featuring “mug shot stations or photos of patrons caught reading a banned book.” These possibilities are just a few teasers with many more presented in the webinar. Webinar attendees also contributed their successful BBW ideas. (Note: Be patient, it takes a few minutes to connect to the webinar.) Kristin’s slides are also available for download.

Celebrating Banned Books Week is just the first step in protecting your students’ First Amendment right to read. But it is not enough. In addition to raising consciousness about censorship during BBW, here’s what else you can do during the school year:

  • Review your school library’s materials selection policy and reconsideration process. Knowing your policy ensures that you are ready at a moment’s notice to follow district policy when responding to an informal oral concern about a library resource or a formal, full-blown challenge.
    • ALA’s website includes a “Workbook for Selection Policy Writing.” Although it is currently being revised by a working group for the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, the workbook provides valuable information including the steps to take if a reconsideration request is made for an item in your collection.
  • Meet with your principal. Review the school’s selection policy and reconsideration process before discussing areas on which you’ll focus collection updates for this school year (Adams).
  • Collaborate with teachers to educate students about their First Amendment right to read. Start by celebrating Constitution Day on September 16, 2016. The National Constitution Center provides resources such as videos, downloadable posters, and lesson plans for instructing students in grades 8-12. Connie Williams August 16 blog about Constitution Day has additional resources and ideas. Bill of Rights Day will be observed on December 15, 2016, and gives you another opportunity to teach students about their right to read. Scroll down the screen to the lesson plans, activities, and games.
  • Reach out to parents. Hold a library open house during parent teacher conferences, and display new library resources. Demonstrate new online research tools that can be accessed by students from home, and supply bookmarks with the login information (Adams).
  • Maintain your knowledge of the state of intellectual freedom by regularly reading the Intellectual Freedom Blog maintained by the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Infographic.reasonsOne last step, if a resource in your library is challenged, call the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom for assistance. You need not be an ALA or AASL member. Any librarian, teacher, administrator, parent, or concerned individual may ask for help. Their toll free number is 800-545-2433, extensions 4221, 4222, or 4224.


Adams, Helen R. Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library.  Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited, 2013: 221-223.

American Library Association. 2015. “The State of America’s Libraries: A Report from the American Library Association. (accessed August 20, 2016).

Image Sources:

American Library Association. “9 of Top 10 Challenged Books, Stand Up for Your Right to Read, and Why Are Books Challenged?” Used with permission from the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.



Author: Helen Adams

A former school librarian in Wisconsin, Helen Adams is an online senior lecturer for Antioch University-Seattle in the areas of intellectual freedom, privacy, library ethics, and copyright. A member of the AASL Knowledge Quest Advisory Board, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee, and a KQ blogger, she is the author of Protecting Intellectual Freedom and Privacy in Your School Library (Libraries Unlimited, 2013) and contributor to The Many Faces of School Library Leadership (2nd edition, Libraries Unlimited, 2017). Email:

Categories: Blog Topics, Intellectual Freedom

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2 replies

  1. As California implements SB 48 FAIR Education Act, school libraries will need to provide additional support materials that reflect the inclusion of LGBTQ(IA) as required by the law. This will be a work in progress but will assuredly face challenges.

  2. Kate,

    I’m glad that you brought California’s mandate to our attention. FYI to CA librarians June is LGBT Book Month. I’m also giving you a URL to ALA’s GLBT Round Table’s page listing a huge number of resources including the recent “Open to All: Serving the LGBT Community in Your Library Toolkit.

    Helen Adams

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