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Rutgers Students Stand with the Banned

ExhibitBanned Books Students Read

Following up on my surprising discovery about the volume of banned and challenged books Rutgers students read, I decided to make banned books the focus of my library instruction sessions at the SEBS Academic Mentoring course. A great introduction to the Rutgers University Libraries resources and services available to first-generation, first-year college students at SEBS, this week of library sessions happened to be a week before Banned Books Week, October 1-7, 2023.

To justify my focus, other than emphasizing the importance of intellectual freedom and the freedom to read at the point of their transition from high school to college, here’s the top list of banned or challenged books that first-year SEBS students previously picked for similar library instruction class assignments, (without a special focus or mentioning book bans), in 2019-2022. Browse the matching posters from 2018-2022.

  1. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  2. 1984 by George Orwell
  3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  4. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  5. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  7. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  8. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  10. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  11. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  12. I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
  13. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The mini-posters created by students to recommend these books in past semesters were ideal contributions to Banned Books Week displays in three New Brunswick Libraries in Fall 2023: Carr, Chang, and Douglass, as a complement to actual books and infographics, either our own or those offered by the American Library Association.

The biggest exhibit was set up by Becky Diamond and Jamey Silverstein in the highly visible Recreational Reading area in Carr Library, matching books and posters recommending them. The collection itself is the home of many titles often challenged or banned elsewhere. Additionally, Jamey rounded up other books from the Carr collection, and now they are arranged spectacularly along with the infographics.

Buttons displayThe smallest of the three Banned Books Week exhibits in Chang Library features two book + infographics displays inside the library in two small cases, as well as Banned Books Week infographics outside the library in the high-traffic hallway of Foran Hall by the SEBS Little Free Library. I set them up to test various arrangements in various areas with QR codes pointing to more resources. Students can pick up free Banned Books Week buttons too, designed and created by Roselyn Riley-Ryan.

Browse our image galleries in the three libraries:

Pictured here is what started it all: the original exhibit on the first floor in Douglass Library with students’ existing mini-posters on display from Fall 2022. After my surprising discovery, it was easy to quicklyturn it into a Banned Books Week exhibit, with some creativity and a second opinion on the spot.

Originally set up by Lindsey Jones, with Kate Greenberg’s assistance to select, edit, and convert SEBS students’ posters, the exhibit was refocused by adding infographics and “BANNED” stickers to the titles on the top two rows. It also features related infographics and QR codes to find out more about banning books. I managed to set it up, with on-site help from Stacey Carton, just in time for this fall’s SEBS Academic Mentoring library sessions at the end of September, one week before the official Banned Books Week started in October.

During their library tours, over 250 students viewed the exhibit. At first, my idea was just to show them what they are going to learn in class and how it will also be reinforced by the hands-on class activity, resulting in the posters. However, to my greatest surprise, fellow students’ book recommendations not only inspired them to complete their own posters on banned books, but the exhibit also proved to be a great conversation starter in many groups.

Guess what happened? During the library tour, students not only admired fellow students’ work, but started to talk about banned books! Right there, on the spot, in front of the shelves featuring book recommendations. After the second occasion it happened, I promptly redesigned the class and stuck around a bit longer to answer questions such as why I thought a particular title had been challenged. This gave students the opportunity to do some banned book talk, instead of the usual awkward silence, as we were moving on to the next floor. As the conversations continued in class during the activity, they learned from each other about books they had read, with the topic of book bans serving as a great way for the like-minded to connect, an entirely unexpected outcome of the classes this semester.

Now I have 250+ brand new mini posters to process from these classes! I can’t wait to see them all and select the best ones to be added to the Banned Books Students Read 2023 exhibit.