Celebrate Reader Privacy -- Banned Books Week Set for September 25 - October 2

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Banned Books Week, the national celebration of First Amendment rights, now in its 23rd year, will be held from September 25 - October 2. With the presidential election just months away, the 2004 theme is "Elect to Read a Banned Book." In addition, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) is urging booksellers to take advantage of the upcoming Banned Books Week to educate the public about the importance of protecting bookstore and library privacy, particularly since the passage of the USA Patriot Act in 2001.

"The July 8 vote in the House of Representatives on the Freedom to Read Amendment demonstrates that reader privacy has emerged as an issue of national concern," said Chris Finan, ABFFE president. Although the amendment failed on a tie vote, the fact that 210 House members voted for it demonstrates the growing support in Congress for restoring the protections for reader privacy that were eliminated by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, he noted. "This year, Banned Books Week will provide us with a wonderful opportunity to drive home the message that reader privacy is an essential element of First Amendment freedom."

One of bookstore customers' most popular promotions, Banned Books Week is sponsored by ABA, ABFFE, the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress.

Each year, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) receives hundreds of reports on books and other materials that were "challenged" by people who asked that they be removed from school or library shelves, according to an ALA press release.

In 2003, the OIF received reports of 458 challenges, defined as formal, written complaints filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series topped the list in 2003, ending the four-year reign of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. The Alice series, which drew complaints about the books' sexual content, ranks Number 10 on the most challenged books list of the 1990s.

Rounding out the top five most challenged books in 2003 were:

  • Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, for offensive language;
  • Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture by Michael A. Bellesiles, for inaccuracy;
  • Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, for racism, sexual content, offensive language, drugs and violence.

To help booksellers prepare for Banned Books Week, this week, ABFFE distributed to ABA members a two-page "Banned Books Week Campaign Plan" flier, which urges booksellers to take several steps to promote the weeklong celebration. It includes a form for ordering ABFFE's FREADOM and Harry Potter products, which are available through the store on ABFFE's Web site, at www.abffe.com.

The main feature of ABFFE's "Banned Books Week Campaign Plan" is the 26-minute documentary about the Tattered Cover Book Store's successful fight against a search warrant for customer records, Reading Your Rights. The short film has been widely praised for its evenhanded treatment of the issue of reader privacy, and Finan noted that booksellers would find it easy to create an hour-long program using the documentary as the centerpiece. Librarians, attorneys, or law professors can be invited to provide comments about the documentary and to answer questions. Reading Your Rights may be ordered from ABFFE for $35 using either the ABFFE Web store or the order form included in the flier.

The flier also suggests that booksellers order the $55 Banned Books Week Kit, which includes: the 2004 Resource Manual, full of great display ideas; three posters; a list of books challenged over the year; 100 bookmarks; and a Banned Books Week pin. The kit and individual items can be ordered through the ALA, or by calling (800) 545-2433, ext. 4220.

In addition to mailing its "Banned Books Week Campaign Plan" to all ABA members, ABFFE is including a copy in the August Red Box, which is being sent to Book Sense participants. It can also be downloaded from the ABFFE Web site (http://abffe.com/pdfs/BBWFlyer.pdf), or requested via phone, (212) 587-4025, or e-mail at [email protected].

In the same Red Box, booksellers should be on the lookout for the first-ever Book Sense Banned Books Week Top Ten list.

Booksellers should also note that they can join the effort to restore reader now by participating in the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP), www.readerprivacy.org, a grassroots petition drive sponsored by ABA, the American Library Association (ALA), and PEN American Center. For more information on CRP, click here.