Each year, our nation celebrates one of the most important gifts libraries have to offer: free and unhindered access to information for all. Banned Books Week (http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/) represents the stand several organizations across the U.S. have taken against book censorship. This fall, UNLV Libraries added a new event, the Banned Books Buffet, to engage students in this discourse outside the classroom.
On September 24, students entered the “buffet” awaiting them in the Goldfield Room of Lied Library and feasted their eyes on tables shouldering between 300-400 books from one of four categories: challenged books, challenged authors, controversial content, and controversial formats.
Students received menus that explained Banned Books Week and provided a place to rate up to seven books they could “taste” simply by reading each for five minutes. Amanda Melilli, head of UNLV’s Curriculum Materials Library (CML) and the library faculty member responsible for the event, noted that many students spent a much, much longer time on their selections than was suggested. “Students were sitting, reading, and sharing with their friends, which was fantastic,” she said. “One community member was pleasantly surprised by what she was observing and remarked that she was thrilled the students actually came to the library to read books!”
Alongside the book-reading activities of the day was a mug shot wall, where students could have their photo taken with a framed version of their favorite challenged title, then post the image on their social media pages. Additionally, an interactive wall titled “Hall of Shame?” provided a place where students could write down comments and engage in a conversation about classic— but challenged—books with their peers. Many students, in fact, were not aware that book banning or challenging was still happening, least of all to some of their childhood favorites— which is exactly why events like the Banned Books Buffet are so important.
Comments like “I wasn’t aware that so many books I’ve read have been banned” and “Never thought people would try to ban so much knowledge” were quite common, but one student’s remark in particular encapsulated the ramifications of such restrictions: “We cannot censor what we believe is scary; it only makes us weaker than what we already are.”
The turnout for the event was tremendous—more than double the initially anticipated number. “We were dedicated to raising students’ awareness of censorship issues that continue to pervade our society and illustrate the role libraries play in protecting information,” Melilli said, “so we were particularly excited about the turnout.” And next year’s event promises to be even bigger and better!