The “Banned Books Week” is an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read. It highlights historical and present attempts to ban books. The American Library Association (ALA) launched this event in the 1980s.
During that time, a lot happened regarding book banning. There was an increased amount of challenged or banned books and organized protests. Most notably, the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case. This ruling stated that school officials cannot ban books in libraries simply because of their content.
The event took place at the Greenwood Library Atrium. Every couple of minutes, a new reader would walk up to the podium and share a section from their favorite banned or challenged book. Numerous students and faculty participated in the readings. There was a unique selection of books ranging from children’s literature to dystopian novels.
While the ALA created this event, it was organized by Greenwood Library and The Department of English & Modern Languages. One of the organizers was Rhonda Brock-Servais, an English professor. She’s been organizing this event at Longwood since the early 2000s.
She described why she believes this is an important topic for students.
“The thing that’s frightening about banned books is not that there are people to object to certain things. Everybody objects to something. The frightening thing is that people are trying to control what others have access to,” said Brock-Servais.
The other organizer was Vicki Lee, a marketing and outreach librarian. She worked alongside Brock-Servais to ensure this event happened. Lee explained that the two of them divvied up the work to best suit their strengths.
Lee worked on the logistics such as designing the event posters, creating buttons, and reserving the space. Brock-Servais printed and hung up posters while also recruiting readers.
Last year due to COVID-19, this event was unable to happen in person. Rather, there were virtual events to support the Banned Books Week.
“This year to be able to do it in person is awesome,” said Lee.
Andrea Clements is a Longwood student and was one of the readers. She’s a junior majoring in primary education liberal studies. She expressed her takeaway from the event.
“That we can still appreciate things, even though they might make others uncomfortable sometimes, or they might be challenging to read but that we can still get something from them,” said Clements.
This was the main takeaway from several audience members. Others expressed some shock that common books now were historically either challenged or banned.
One example of this would be the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. According to ALA, the Harry Potter series was a part of the 100 most frequently censored books between 1990-2010. Witchcraft, magic, violence, and occult/Satanism are some of the reasons that this book was challenged or banned.
Brock-Servais mentioned that Longwood has always been supportive of this event since its inception. She brought up that some colleges might not allow it.
For more information regarding the ALA and banned books, visit their website at ALA.org.