September 2, 2016

Banned Books Might Be Hiding On Your Block

By Tayla Burney

Banned Books Week at Kennedy Library.

Banned Books Week at Kennedy Library.

The Bible, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and “I Am Jazz,” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, a picture book that tells the story of a young transgender girl, wouldn’t be found on the same shelf at your local library. But they do have something in common. Each of those titles, along with many more, have been banned or challenged in local schools and libraries across the country.

Each fall the American Library Association, or ALA, spotlights the issue by highlighting the issue and celebrating freedom of speech during Banned Books Week. Local libraries –and bookstores– throughout the region have long put up displays of titles that have been challenged and banned to encourage readers to expand their worldview by giving them a read.

“D.C. is a funny audience for banned books week,” says Linnea Hegarty, Executive Director of DC Public Library Foundation. “There’s not a lot of that activity around banning books in the city, but it’s still important for people to understand it can and does happen.”

To raise awareness, Hegarty’s organization, a non-profit that enhances the library system, launched a month of ‘Uncensored’  programming three years ago, which has always included an art exhibition and fundraising cocktail party.

Uncensored Save the Date

Image Courtesy DC Library Foundation

This year they’re adding something new: a citywide scavenger hunt. Copies of 400 books that have been banned will be hidden throughout the District, starting Tuesday, September 6.

Hegarty explains that the idea came from a question board member Derek Brown asked at a meeting earlier this year: “When books are banned, how do people get them?” Hegarty said that sparked conversation in the group, noting “usually it’s under the table in a hidden way, with a fake cover.”

The group had been brainstorming social media strategies to engage broader audiences and thought a scavenger hunt with a social component would be a great way to engage people in the community. For hints on where to find the titles, clues will be shared on Twitter  and Instagram with the hashtag #UNCENSOREDDC.

Where will they be?

Hegarty says there will be some serendipitous drops in places like the Metro, but many will be at partner sites, where they’ve talked to the staff so they’ll know not to remove a book that’s been placed into the lost and found.  Her best hint for those looking? “I’d suggest you shop local.”

And since it’s a month-long project that they’ve never tried before, they’ll be able to adjust after week one based on hunters’ experience.

How will you know if you’ve found an #UNCENSOREDDC book and not just one an absent-minded reader left behind on their commute or at a coffee shop?

Morgan West book pic

Photo courtesy Morgan Hungerford West

The cover will give it away. Hegarty said they decided to “put a cover on [them] that plays on the idea of being secret, but also highlights why these books are being banned. Each of the covers pulls quotes from ALA documentation on why the book was challenged or banned. The foundation website will have direct links to that information so readers can see how it all started. We tried to be intentionally provocative by choosing documented cases that were somewhat unbelievable, like “A Separate Peace” which almost everyone reads in the 11th grade.”

What do you do once you find a book?

Tweet or Instagram a picture of it with that same hashtag – #UNCENSOREDDC – and you might just get a free pair of tickets to the cocktail party (which go for $50 per person). Fifteen winners will be chosen at random and given a chance to attend the event.

Making that event accessible is certainly a benefit of the hunt, with Hegarty noting “the point of Uncensored is to bring people into the library for an experience that’s fun and unexpected and to showcase the variety of things they do at the library. So while it’s about fundraising it’s also equally about education and outreach.”

Happy hunting!

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