Empowering Teens with Freedom of Expression

Banned and Challenged Books, Banned Books Week

By: Lisa Rand

Keep the Light On

With the return to school, students must readjust to the reductions in personal freedom and free time their schedule brings. In the library, I try to expand the space for free expression, planning teen activities that offer a relaxing break and meaningful creative outlets. Remembering my own high school years, in which my classroom often felt disconnected from critical issues outside the school door, I strive to design programs where teens can grapple with the topics they are passionate about. Top on the list of pressing concerns is freedom of expression.

By participating in Banned Books Week, we have an opportunity to connect with a larger body of people who are concerned about freedom of expression and the right to read. This year Banned Books Week will be an inspiring starting point for a year of creative civic engagement in my youth programs. 

Throughout September the teen books display will highlight banned and challenged authors and our activity table will feature the Dear Banned Author resources. We also have a Guess the Book jar, with copied and shredded pages from a frequently challenged title. (I prominently label the jar, “No books were harmed in the making of this contest.”) Last year the book jar prompted a number of conversations among browsers, and it prompted research. One teen would ask, “Could it be X?” and another teen would respond, “Has that been challenged?” It is a simple but engaging activity.

During Banned Books Week we will have a Keep the Light On evening program where high school students can discuss banned and challenged books and create art in response. I anticipate that our button maker will be the most popular art tool, but I also have a stash of white t-shirts to decorate with paint pens. Plans include putting out a poster board for art responses that can be hung in the teen area after the event.

We will carry the energy of engaged discussion into October when our Teen Debate Club launches. This will be a Friday after hours program, suggested by a couple of regular library attenders. One is a participant in the school youth and government program and has fun with debate practice. Another felt shy to debate in a large group but really enjoys learning about socio-political issues. I consulted with a model government adviser and obtained rules for basic parliamentary procedure. It will be interesting to see whether this becomes simply a fun forum, or if it can inspire and launch activism. Whichever direction the teens travel, I hope I can support their goals.

Another event planned for my library calendar will be preparing for the National Coalition Against Censorship Youth Free Expression Film Contest. Submissions will be open March to mid-April. I intend to use some of the winners and semi-finalists as prompts for Debate Club.  This year’s contest on the the theme Truth to Power included short films addressing gun violence, sexual assault, displacement and migration, climate, and gender equality. 

Enabling and supporting free expression lies at the core of library work. With Banned Books Week, libraries can welcome the new school year with creative and thought-provoking programs.


Lisa Rand

Lisa M. Rand is the youth services coordinator at Boyertown Community Library in southeastern Pennsylvania, a role that carries a special interest in protecting youth access to diverse programs and materials. She exercises her commitment to equity and access for everyone by serving on the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Pennsylvania Library Association. Lisa developed a passion for Constitutional Law and First Amendment issues while at Simmons College, and continued her studies at the New School in New York City. Whenever possible she travels, visiting libraries and walking in the footsteps of favorite fictional characters. Find her on Twitter @lisa_m_rand.

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