All summer long, the institutions have been holding talks and events at library branches, bookstores and even in community parks. The events have featured discussions with authors of banned and challenged books,
talks from experts
in fields like pediatric mental health and even colorful, silly
drag queen story hours
It isn't unusual for libraries to hold activities for banned or challenged books, especially during the American Library Association's annual
Banned Books Week
in late September. However, Austin Public Library leaders believe their months-long initiative is a first.
"We try to do programming that is responsive to what is going on in our community, and we were aware of the community's concerns around book banning and library censorship that was happening across the country and especially here in Texas," Baylor Johnson, the library's communications manager, told CNN.
Johnson said many Banned Camp events especially highlight
authors and authors of color, whose works are frequently targeted by these challenges. The program was kicked off by a conversation with author and LGBTQ activist George M. Johnson, whose collection of coming-of-age essays titled "
All Boys Aren't Blue
" was named one of the ALA's
Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021
. Classic books that are frequently challenged, like "1984" and "The Color Purple," also got a Banned Camp spotlight.
While many moves to ban or challenge content have centered on schools, library professionals
are increasingly worried
such initiatives will grow, spreading from municipal to state levels and from classrooms to public libraries and beyond.
It's already happening in Virginia, where two state leaders
sought a restraining order against Barnes & Noble
in May. State delegate Tim Anderson and former congressional candidate Tommy Altman claimed the books "Gender Queer," a graphic novel by Maia Kobabe named the ALA's most-challenged book of 2021; and the popular fantasy book "A Court of Mist and Fury" by Sarah J. Maas "are obscene to unrestricted viewing by minors."
The people behind Austin's Banned Camp see these ominous developments as an opportunity to remind readers, young and old, that books are an enduring symbol of free speech.
"Books take us on adventures, offer us new perspectives and ideas, and sometimes push us out of our comfort zones," Meghan Goel, children's book buyer & programming director at BookPeople, said in a statement. "They are multifaceted and not easily reduced to soundbites or headlines. That is what makes it so exciting and rewarding to be a reader! "
Johnson, the APL's communications manager, said the community's response to Banned Camp has been overwhelmingly positive.
"We are very glad that the community understands that libraries are places where intellectual freedom and the right to find stories and information must be protected," he said.