40 Virtual Program Ideas for Banned Books Week
By: Ellie Diaz
Banned Books Week is traditionally a time when libraries, schools, and bookstores host in-person events that raise awareness about censorship. This Banned Books Week (September 27 – October 3) will look different.
With many libraries practicing social distancing, and recent protests and acknowledgements of systemic racism, this is not the time to conduct a business-as-usual Banned Books Week. This Banned Books Week can be a time to highlight activism, embrace creativity, explore technology, and recognize voices that have attempted to be silenced.
Below are ways to celebrate Banned Books Week while maintaining social distance, attributed to libraries and schools that do incredible programming. Check out our Pinterest page for even more ideas, and share your own ideas with the Celebrating Banned Books Week Facebook group.
Posters, high resolution logos, digital handouts, and bookmarks are available on the ALA Store.
1. Create a virtual escape room that highlights this year’s Banned Books Week theme “Censorship is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom to Read.”
- Inspiration: “Fairy Tale Quest- Digital Escape Room” created by Morgan Lockard from Campbell County Public Library; “Hogwarts Digital Escape Room” created by Sydney Krawiec from Peters Township Public Library in McMurray, PA; “Digital Escape Rooms!” list compiled by Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes Libraries
- Resources: “Create A Virtual Escape Room with Google Forms Tutorial” (video), Room Escape Maker
2. Host a virtual trivia night that tests participants’ knowledge about literary censorship.
- Resource: Request a free kit with questions and answers from the Banned Books Week Coalition.
3. Books that address police brutality and racism continue to be challenged, and some people have requested that Black Lives Matter displays in libraries be dismantled. Partner with an organization that raises and centers on the voices of Black people, inviting speakers to virtually discuss historic and current racism, and/or the importance of sharing these experiences within stories.
4. Invite a banned author to do a storytime or Q&A about how it feels to be censored.
- Inspiration: Virtual Author Chat from the Scotland County (N.C.) Memorial Library.
- Resource: Banned book lists from the American Library Association is a great place to find names of banned and challenged authors.
5. Stream a movie adaptation of a banned book or a virtual watch party of films based on banned books and host a conversation afterward.
- Resource: Find lists of banned book movie adaptations on this Pinterest Board.
6. Host a virtual read-through of the play The Sledding Hill — based on the book by Chris Crutcher and adapted for the stage by playwright Jarrett Dapier — and assign attendees different characters. The theatrical adaptation features a cast of passionate teen characters and debates about the value of intellectual freedom and the rights of youth to read what they choose.
- Resource: The script is available for free from the American Library Association.
7. Partner with a local LGBTQIA+ group to host a virtual program that addresses this statistic: “8 of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019 were challenged because of LGBTQIA+ content.” Why are LGBTQIA+ books censored? What does that say about society? What can we do to stop this?
8. Connect with a local group that assists with sending books to people who are incarcerated to see if there is interest in hosting a discussion about censorship in prisons and/or promoting their list of needed books.
9. Host an online bingo based on banned book titles or your library/organization’s activities for Banned Books Week.
- Inspiration: at-home bingo at the Henry County Public Library
- Example: banned books bingo at the Pittsburg Public Library
- Resource: MyFreeBingoCards.com
10. Host a virtual banned book-themed storytime every day of Banned Books Week, with the reader dressed as banned book characters.
- Example: Jessica Fitzpatrick (@librarian_fitz) dressed as banned book characters during Banned Books Week 2019.
11. Host a story writing contest that asks participants to imagine a world where all books were banned.
12. Invite an illustrator to demonstrate a drawing tutorial, and end the program with a discussion on graphic novels and comics that are banned because of their artwork or covers.
- Resources: “Banned Comics,” “Read Banned Comics” “Profiles in Black Cartooning,” “History of Comics Censorship” “She Changed Comics” and “Raising a Reader! How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love To Read!” webpages from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
13. Host a stay-at-home read-a-thon party/ball and encourage readers to take one night during Banned Books Week to open a banned book and post their thoughts in a shared space or using a unique hashtag.
- Inspiration: Stay at home and read events from the Manchester Community Library, Library Foundation of Los Angeles and Johnson County Library Foundation
14. Create an online scavenger hunt about banned poetry or banned literature.
- Inspiration: Florence-Lauderdale Public Library 2020 Teen Internet Poetry Scavenger Hunt
- Resource: “Poetry’s Place in the History of Banned Books” by Poets.org
15. Host a virtual art show featuring reimagined covers of banned books or banned book trading cards.
- Inspiration: Westland Public Library Teens Virtual Art Show, Boyertown Community Library Virtual Art Show
- Examples: Banned book trading cards from Chapel Hill Public Library
16. Encourage readers to film themselves reading from their favorite banned or challenged book and submit the video to the American Library Association to be featured on the Banned Books Week YouTube Channel.
- Resource: Stand for the Banned Read-Out guidelines and submission form
- Example: 2019 banned book read-out playlist
17. While the right to read is guaranteed by the First Amendment, so is the right to protest. Host a program about different forms of activism, bringing current Black Lives Matters protests to the forefront. The program could also touch on how readers can advocate for or express their First Amendment rights, including the right to read.
- Resource: “Be Heard! Protecting Your Protest Rights” and “Tools for Activist” from the National Coalition Against Censorship
18. Host a virtual open mic night where participants can read excerpts from their favorite banned and challenged books while enjoying coffee and tea.
19. Hundreds of scholars around the world face threats for critical thinking and daring to share their ideas. Invite a scholar to discuss threats to academic freedom and attacks on scholars.
- Resource: Scholars at Risk Network Speaker Series, “Banned Books to Dissident Scholars: Promoting Higher Education Values to Curb Censorship”
20. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Plan a virtual program on civic engagement or the First Amendment.
- Resource: First Amendment Center
21. Censorship is scary! Draw attention to books that were challenged because they were too scary such as the Goosebumps series and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by hosting a haunted banned BOOk virtual reading or streaming the documentary that discusses the censorship of the Scary Stories series.
- Inspiration: Virtual scary stories at the Aram Public Library
- Resources: Scary Stories documentary
22. If you haven’t already selected a book club pick for September or October, consider selecting a banned or challenged book.
Social Distanced Programs
23. Host at-home contests by putting together baggies of supplies with materials and instructions as grab-and-go kits. Encourage participants to send in photos of their creation or post them on Twitter with a specific hashtag.
- Inspiration: These contests/materials could be altered to focus on banned books: dioramas using Peeps from Missoula Public Library, sidewalk chalk creations from the Killingworth Library, Lego bricks contest from Araphaoe Libraries
- Example: cakes and treats based on banned books from St. Ambrose University Library’s Edible Book Festival
- Resource: banned book coloring sheets
24. Create a sidewalk obstacle course around the theme “Censorship is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom to Read.” Can participants balance on banned book spines and leap over the lagoon of censored words to unlock the ultimate place to explore new perspectives (their local library)?
- Inspiration: Illinois Prairie District Public Library obstacle course (video), Coquitlam Public Library library crunch challenge (video), Silly Sidewalk Obstacle Course from the Tavares (Fla.) Public Library
25. Create at-home storytime kits of banned children’s books.
- Resource: list of banned children’s books
- Inspiration: Program model of take-home kits based on magical locations from the Meservey (Iowa) Public Library
26. Create an iSpy display with banned book covers or “artifacts” from banned books.
- Inspiration: Pinterest board compiled by Tammy Thomasson-Ehrhart, “I Spy” windows at Princeton Public Library
27. Create banned book-themed craft kits that users can check-out, or host a virtual craft program that focuses on a banned book design or message.
- Inspiration: Craftivism 101- Virtual Cross Stitch Workshop at Buncombe County Public Libraries, rock-painting at the Denville Public Library (banned books “rock”!), book wreaths from Tulsa City-County Library and crafts from recycled pages (that could be printed or recycled pages from banned books)
- Example: “I Read Banned Books” screen-printing at Artesia Public Library
- Resource: Program Model: To-Go Crafts at the Liberty Lake Library
28. Harry Potter was a frequently challenged book. Host a make-and-take craft or tasty treat based on the banned series.
- Examples: Wand-making from jbrary.com, Potion keychains from the Beardsley Library, no-churn Butterbeer Ice Cream, Horcrux Hunt from the Lewis Cooper Jr. Memorial Library
29. Partner with local restaurants to offer a banned book spin on menu items. Those who order the menu items could receive a banned book button or bookmark.
30. Create Banned Books Mad Libs from banned book pages.
- Example: Downloadable Mad Libs from 5minlib.com
31. Create and promote “banned book bundles” of frequently banned and challenged titles that users can check out and pick up.
32. Create your own crossword based on banned/challenged titles in your collection, or use crosswords created by the American Library Association or ACLU.
- Examples: ACLU Tennessee’s Banned Books Crossword Puzzle, Top 10 Most Challenged Books Crossword from the American Library Association
33. Create grab-and-go Dear Banned Author kits, that include postcards, a list of banned author mailing addresses, and pens.
Social Media Programs/Activities
34. Participate in the Dear Banned Author initiative by encouraging readers to tweet to their favorite banned authors using #BannedBooksWeek and #DearBannedAuthor.
- Resources: Find author Twitter handles and promotion tools
- Examples: Read some tweets and postcards that were sent to authors
35. Shred printed-out pages of a banned title and put them in a jar, or print out a page from a banned book and use a marker to black-out words. Post a picture and offer a prize to the first follower to guess the correct banned title.
36. Create an online voting bracket where users can vote on their favorite banned book character or title each day.
37. Create “Houses” of banned characters and ask followers to choose which group they would like to be a part of or quarantined with.
- Inspiration: “The ‘choose your quarantine house’ social media game is letting people choose their isolation dream team, from Beyoncé to Logan Paul” article on Insider, “Choose Your Fiction Book Character Quarantine House” on NaNoWriMo, Facebook post from Paul Sawyier Public Library Youth Services
38. Post emojis that share the plot of a banned book and ask followers to guess the title.
- Inspiration: New York Public Library’s emoji book title quiz, Bustle’s emoji book title quiz
39. Host a Twitter Chat discussion with followers about what books are targeted with censorship, why that is, and who gets to decide what we read.
40. Spotlight banned books by sharing cover art and the link to the title in your digital collection on social media, especially highlighting books that were challenged because they confront subjects such as race, abilities, gender, and gender identity.
- Resource: Find lists of frequently challenged books and the reasons why they were challenged from the American Library Association, as well as cover art of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019
Ellie Diaz is the Program Officer at the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. With her journalism background and fierce devotion to the freedom to read, Ellie organizes ALA’s Banned Books Week and several other projects within OIF.
These are some wonderful ideas! I especially love the the illustrator one (12) and the local restaurant one (29). Thank you for creating and sharing this list!