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Rutgers Banned Books Week Celebrates Freedom to Read

October 23, 2017
Printmaking student Alex Lobo poses with her contest-winning Banned Books Week t-shirt design.

Printmaking student Alex Lobo poses with her contest-winning Banned Books Week t-shirt design.

Banned Book Face

Paul Robeson Library's #BannedBookFaceFriday posts played on the popular #BookFaceFriday trend on social media.

Last month, Rutgers University Libraries joined the American Library Association and the worldwide community of libraries, publishers, and readers to celebrate Banned Books Week. Founded in 1982, Banned Books Week raises awareness about the harms of censorship and highlights the value of free and open access to information.

With the support of a grant from the Freedom to Read Foundation, art librarian Megan Lotts coordinated Banned Books Week events across Rutgers–New Brunswick. At Douglass Library, banned books were showcased in a display of posters modeled after missing person notices, each one featuring handwritten reflections on the works by members of the Rutgers community. At the Art Library, case displays presented an array of banned and challenged materials from Rutgers’ collections, with titles ranging from James Joyce’s Ulysses to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.

In collaboration with Barbara Madsen, associate professor in the Visual Arts Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Lotts also discussed censorship and intellectual freedom with printmaking students and invited them to explore these issues through original works of art. The images were then featured on buttons that were distributed throughout the Rutgers–New Brunswick community. One lucky student, Alexandra (Alex) Lobo, had her design printed on a limited edition t-shirt that was given to attendees of a Banned Books Week reception at the Art Library.

Paul Robeson Library joined in on the activities at Rutgers–Camden by mounting a banned books “peep show” display and riffing on the #BookFaceFriday trend on social media with their own #BannedBookFaceFriday posts. Rutgers students and libraries alike took to social media to voice their support throughout the week with the hashtag #RutgersBannedBooksWeek.

And while Banned Books Week has now come and gone, Lotts warns that the dialogue it established—at Rutgers and elsewhere—must continue.

“It was a great opportunity to call special attention to censorship and intellectual freedom with our Banned Books Week events, but these are issues that we face year-round,” she said. “They are crucial to our everyday lives, and we must keep fighting for the right to express ourselves.”