Last week our school celebrated Banned Books Week. I am lucky enough to work at an arts high school that prides itself on intellectual and academic freedom, creativity, and instilling the value of the humanities within our students. Since our school opened its doors fifteen years ago, Banned Books Week (BBW) has been celebrated. It is so well embedded in our school that even our President proudly supports our events and the openness of our institution. But none of this happened overnight.
Prior to BBW, I met with the graphic design teacher in August to discuss an ongoing annual project where seniors design BBW posters that are displayed in the library. In my opinion, they always do a better job than anything ALA will sell me (see above artwork). Throughout BBW I went to four high school U.S. Government classes to discuss the 1st Amendment, prominent case-law involving students’ rights, and how this ties to BBW and their rights as young adults. Each day in the library we held trivia contests distributed via email to our students where they could win Banned Books, posters, buttons, T-shirts and other anti-censorship prizes in addition to Amazon gift cards, all displayed on tables in cauldrons in the front of the library. Our library director did a program on the controversial opera “The Death Of Klinghoffer.” Mid-week we held our annual BBW Read Out at lunch in the courtyard and had a great group of students and teachers reading from their favorite banned books. I was proud to see our Dean & VP in the amphitheater observing.
Although many places don’t offer the support that I receive, there is nothing more patriotic than celebrating Banned Books Week. My father is a vet and retired Air Force and my sister-in-law is an Iraqi War Veteran. If you’re concerned about a backlash, invite service members into your BBW library program. My sister-in-law is a huge fan of fantasy literature and would proudly state “you’re damn right I fought for your right to read Harry Potter or any other book.” Hearing that from a service member in uniform with an American flag backdrop helps take away the politics and allows us to celebrate as united Americans.
I have always believed that libraries are about relationships. I love getting to know all the students, teachers, administrators, and staff at school. The best relationships take time to build. It took years to build up trust before Creative Writing, History, Government, and Visual Arts teachers let me into their classrooms and collaborated with me for BBW. It was through informal conversations that they gained a sense of who I was and what was motivating me. I hope that everyone is out there building quality relationships that give them the support they need to celebrate BBW. The best part of BBW this year? When a 12th grader I didn’t know visited me in the library and thanked me for coming to his class because he thought the discussion interesting. It is the beginning of a new relationship.