Statement on the 2015 Banned Books Week Poster

Banned Books Week


We are aware of the comments about this year’s poster for Banned Books Week. We appreciate and respect the concern expressed by the commenters on behalf of the individuals and communities served by their libraries, as well as the concern expressed for the association’s work on behalf of diversity and intellectual freedom.

We take to heart any distress we may have inadvertently caused anyone. The poster was never intended to offend or shock, nor was there any intent to include any ethnic or cultural stereotypes. The aim of the campaign is to employ the universal signage for “Do Not Enter” – a red circle with a bar across it – as a visual proxy for book censorship. It is not a head covering.

We attempted to embrace diversity by including a person of color – which, combined with the graphic elements of the design, appears to have contributed to the multiple perceptions of the poster. It is especially unfortunate that a poster meant to embrace diversity has raised concerns about possible stereotyping and offense.

Commenters have shared how the image evokes a burqa or a niqab. This simply did not occur to us as the design for the poster developed. Our design team included a Muslim woman who wears traditional dress. She was enthusiastic about the campaign and the poster design and we were pleased to work with her on it. We have shared the comments with her and she is surprised that the poster has been interpreted as traditional Muslim dress.

We have read and carefully considered all the feedback. We will be exploring alternatives and our future course of action in the coming week with the goal of reaching a resolution that responds to members’ concerns and upholds the values of our association and the profession. We will continue to engage in the robust exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of our values.

As always, our goal for Banned Books Week is to highlight the harms of censorship and to promote the freedom to read for all.


  • What concerns me about the “but a Muslim woman helped create this poster, so it MUST be ok!” bit is that that is quite a burden to put on someone; to speak for an entire minority group.

  • I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t already been said, but this just really worries me.

    Are all of us who see a blatant allusion to a niqab prejudiced because we see it? Are all of you who don’t see it until it’s pointed out prejudiced because you don’t? Are we, as librarians, supposed to protect the freedom of the former, or the latter?

  • In reference to JP’s comment, I read that part very differently – I read it as a Muslim woman helped created the poster and did not see this resemblance herself. I didn’t think there was an implication that she spoke for all Muslim women. It’s interesting how people can perceive things so differently – whether it’s the image itself or the words used in the apology. I don’t think there is a right or wrong perception. The best we can do is to try to be sensitive of other people’s perceptions and to try to be forgiving – we are all constantly learning and as we have seen from this, even something one person sees as simple (the “universal” do not enter sign) can be perceived as something entirely different by someone else. The important thing is that we are all still trying to learn and to be better and to do better.

  • Wait a minute, folks. If a poster has multiple interpretations and one of them has to do with anyone who is restricted from reading freely and another dimension reminds viewers that women have been restricted, historically and contemporaneously, from freedom (reading and beyond), and the universal “do not enter” sign is an abridgment of human potential when/if applied to the mind of any person (my first impression upon seeing the image … well and good. Literature and art SHOULD invoke a plethora of potential responses, and images involving censorship issues SHOULD be troubling in multiple ways. I applaud the poster!

    P.S. It would have been great to have displayed the poster image in question right on this page where the discussion is happening, btw. I had to pull it up separately while thinking about the comments …

  • This is a great experience for my students in the seminar on intellectual freedom.

  • JP: Why do you think the statement has her speaking for anyone other than herself? It gives her opinion. One person. It does not say nor imply that everyone in whatever demographic group(s) she is a member of shares her opinion. She designed the work in question and the commentary is relevant to her as an individual; it makes sense that she would want to weigh in on the debate from that perspective. I would not want her voice silenced out of fear that it might be seen as the excusatory equivalent of pointing to ALA’s Black friend. That isn’t going on here.

    To all readers: We have people of note in the library community — and, to be clear, I’m not referring to JP — questioning whether the nameless Muslim woman designer exists, because she doesn’t share the mindset that we, as predominantly white, privileged progressives, hold about her depiction. We have people literally invalidating her as a human being because she doesn’t hold the opinion we expect a Muslim woman to hold. Can we think about that for a moment?

    I don’t like the image, but a lot of the talk about the designer has been too much for me. She exists and deserves to have a say in all of this. She doesn’t deserve to have her existence questioned or be picked apart for not falling into our own stereotyped line for her. I hope that those remarks and the corners they’re happening in will stop.

  • This is a female “person of color” with her face covered by a book.

    It is amazing what we can see when we look at something.

  • I like the poster. It inadvertently points to a key civil rights issue of our time, the emancipation of Muslim women in the Islamic umma. As ALA Midwinter speaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, argues, Islam is in dire need of a Reformation. The prohibition on usury is another antiquated idea keeping Islam from advancing.

  • What is more insulting? Someone mentioning that a woman who wears traditional Muslim dress worked on the poster or a few self-righteous people, the vast majority of whom are white, starting a petition so they can grandstand? It is demeaning to people of color when you coopt their status to try to make yourself look like the benevolent white savior. Stop colonizing other people’s experience!

  • Yes, sometimes a visual image or a literary work can have multiple valid interpretations. However, it is also possible to propose an interpretation of a work which is simply incorrect.

    Claiming that this poster is a commentary on Islam is akin to saying, I don’t know, that Meyer’s ‘Jacky Faber’ series is a retelling of The Odyssey, because both contain a boat. Neither are true.

    It is utterly clear that the poster depicts a ‘Restricted’ or ‘Do Not Enter’ street sign, and makes no reference to Islam, or to Muslim women’s dress.

    I find the both the internet-bandwagon-jumping and lack of critical thinking involved in this ‘controversy’ to be truly disheartening.

    It is disappointing and absurd to think that even some librarians are betraying the ideals of the profession by agitating to ban an item based on an imagined offense. The irony of their seeking to ban an item which in and of itself is speaking out against the banning of purportedly ‘offensive’ content is not lost…

    I just wanted to say that I am in support of the ALA’s ideals – including its ongoing efforts to support diversity in reading material and to make libraries welcoming spaces for all, where all dissenting voices can be heard.

    Stand strong, and don’t succumb to the voices of censors, no matter from which ‘side’ those ‘readstricting’ voices come!

  • I saw what the designers intended, so my mind didn’t stretch to be offended by making up some parallel to a minority culture’s oppression, as appropriate as that parallel may be, since that oppression also includes the disclusion from education and the intellectul discussion.

    I’m just surprised more people weren’t offended by the implication that a book was destroyed for this campaign….

  • Don’t This poster is wonderful and I agree with Jean Caspers’ comment above. Art should evoke all different responses and especially when it pertains to banned books! Others need to turn their sensitivity meters down and recognize the importance of free speech!! Don’t let these bully’s censor you ALA!

  • People will see what they want to see. Personally, I didn’t even see a “person of color.” I saw a tannish-American woman. Silly me.

    A big to-do about nothing.

  • In this world there are many things that are extremely offensive to many groups of people. Offensive language, TV, movies, not being able to display something because it doesn’t agree with someone else or someone’s religion are all offensive to people in some way. While I am sorry that this poster may have seemed offensive to someone, some times I think we can be too overly sensitive. I viewed this as a great visual for banned book week and was interested in seeing what books were banned this past year. I didn’t see a woman of color or anything that depicted a Muslim woman.
    I say keep the poster as is and let’s move on from this.

  • I find it nothing less than ironic that those who would admonish a person for objecting to a book would do the same for the poster.

  • The person who started the petition is not Muslim, not Arabic in any way.
    They are not actually offended, they saw an opportunity, while others signed it because there’s a kind of social pressure to act offended by things when others do.
    Keep in mind, there is a trend within modern ‘liberal arts’ academia where students are taught to look for the most trivial reason to act offended by something, and often people establish their identities as ‘social justice experts’ by being the first person to find something offensive that nobody thought about before.
    Also, many of these academics and students are also promoting censorship campaigns and trying to have books banned, so they subtly oppose anti-censorship campaigns in general, while also vocally supporting them.

  • Did no one else see this poster and think the woman was a ninja, her face hidden behind the red circle of the Japanese flag?
    That was my first impression, and I had to be told of the resemblance to the niqab. Admittedly, the ninja resemblance is somewhat ludicrous, but there is something ludicrous about this whole dustup.

  • What are all those who object to this poster seeing that I DO NOT see? It’s a great poster – I like it.
    What is your problem, folks?

  • I don’t see anything wrong with this poster. We need to stop injecting racism into society! There is already enough of it out there without creating it where it’s not intended! Get a life and stop trying to incite an argument.

  • I find it a bit ironic that a group meant to uphold the right to the freedom of press and free exchange of ideas is tip-toeing an appology to others that are offended by a poster that meant no offence. There is no offence in this poster. It is a woman of middle-eastern decent holding a book with a hole cut so she can peer through meant to bring attention to the censorship of literature. If one wanted to there could be dozens more who outcry on other implications where non was meant. It is also ironic to me that some on this forum refer to the woman as a “minority”. Isn’t this language that should be out of date? Many of the people that have been labeled the “minority” now outnumber the “majority”. In this time of strife for equality for all it is time we get past these outdated terms.

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