Some of my favorite books, such as Huck Finn and Of Mice and Men, are frequently challenged and banned by others. Since 1982 ALA has organized an annual Banned Books Week (Sept. 29 through Oct. 6 this year) that encourages people to read and celebrate the freedom to read whatever one wishes.
I've never attended a banned books event in the real world, which is shameful of me. The only excuse I can offer is that banned books events in the real world have to be in specific places at specific times, and, apparently, I was never near any of those places at the appropriate times. There probably are many librarians and members of the general public who, like me, support and defend the freedom to read, yet have never actually participated in a Banned Books Week activity.
This year ALA is trying several new high-tech methods to reach out to more people. The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, which co-sponsors with other author and publisher organizations the nationwide Banned Books Week effort as well as several location-specific events, is using mashups, social network services, online resources, and virtual worlds to try to reach out to more readers. These high-tech efforts are designed to complement traditional real-world banned books activities, not replace them.
An area of ALA/Arts Info Island in Second Life, the three-dimensional virtual world, has been turned into a pirate ship and wharf, which corresponds to this year's piratical theme. Numerous "in-world" exhibits and events will be held there, including:
- Saturday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. Second Life Time (Pacific Daylight Time): A kickoff celebration of the freedom to read.
- Sunday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. SLT: Fireworks display
- Monday, October 1 at 5 p.m. SLT: A book discussion of the short novel, Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
- Tuesday, October 2 at noon SLT: More fireworks
- Tuesday, October 2 at 5 p.m. SLT: A book discussion of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
- Wednesday, October 3 at noon SLT: An Intellectual Freedom Program on "Frequently Challenged Books" moderated by ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Deputy Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone.
- Thursday, October 4 at 5 p.m. SLT: An Intellectual Freedom Program on "Challenges and Customer Service Opportunities" presented by Rose Chenoweth from the Alliance Library System in Illinois.
- Lots of posters, podcasts, videos, exhibits, and information packets have been placed on the pirate ship and on the wharf. For example, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library has loaned an exhibit they created for their NEH Big Read efforts. An interactive classroom about Huck Finn is being planned, too. As you roam through the virtual space, be mindful of the squawking gulls, the scurvy rats, and the haunted pirate ghosts.
- For many hours throughout the week there will be greeters at the Welcome Center on the wharf to welcome the visiting avatars and point them to areas of interest.
Not to be outdone, the teens over in Teen Second Life, another three-dimensional virtual world, are developing an underwater pirate ship and banned books display. Glub, glub. On Friday, October 5, beginning at 4 p.m. SLT they will have a party where attendees are encouraged to dress as their favorite banned book character. That should be smurfy.
ALA also has created a Facebook group (search for Banned Books Week 2007) where librarians and members of the general public can share ideas, experiences, events, and recommendations. ALA has a MySpace page, too, containing more information about Banned Books Week.
Finally, to make it easier for schmucks like me to find real-world Banned Books Week events that are near my geographic location, ALA has created a Google Maps mashup where people can input and find the locations of planned activites.
Not everyone can or wants to be in virtual worlds, on social networks, and online in general, but ALA should be admired and applauded for trying new high-tech ways to remind the populace that, as the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom slogan states, "Free People Read Freely."