40 Virtual Program Ideas for Banned Books Week

By: Ellie Diaz

Text reads: Celebrate Banned Books Week virtually. September 27 - October 3. Office for Intellectual Freedom. To the left of the text is an open book. To the right of the text is a shadow of a young person standing with hands on their hips.

Banned Books Week is traditionally a time when libraries, schools, and bookstores host in-person events that raise awareness about censorship. This Banned Books Week (September 27 – October 3) will look different.

With many libraries practicing social distancing, and recent protests and acknowledgements of systemic racism, this is not the time to conduct a business-as-usual Banned Books Week. This Banned Books Week can be a time to highlight activism, embrace creativity, explore technology, and recognize voices that have attempted to be silenced. 

Poster, Field Report, and two bookmarks with this year's Banned Books Week theme "Censorship is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom to Read." The theme includes a maze, open book, and a shadow of a figure with hands on their hips.

Below are ways to celebrate Banned Books Week while maintaining social distance, attributed to libraries and schools that do incredible programming. Check out our Pinterest page for even more ideas, and share your own ideas with the Celebrating Banned Books Week Facebook group.

Posters, high resolution logos, digital handouts, and bookmarks are available on the ALA Store

Virtual Programs

1. Create a virtual escape room that highlights this year’s Banned Books Week theme “Censorship is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom to Read.” 

Clues are situated in a circle formation, including photographs, a clock, a letter, a lock, files, and a camera.

2. Host a virtual trivia night that tests participants’ knowledge about literary censorship. 

  • Resource: Request a free kit with questions and answers from the Banned Books Week Coalition. 

3. Books that address police brutality and racism continue to be challenged, and some people have requested that Black Lives Matter displays in libraries be dismantled. Partner with an organization that raises and centers on the voices of Black people, inviting speakers to virtually discuss historic and current racism, and/or the importance of sharing these experiences within stories. 

4. Invite a banned author to do a storytime or Q&A about how it feels to be censored.

  • InspirationVirtual Author Chat from the Scotland County (N.C.) Memorial Library.
  • ResourceBanned book lists from the American Library Association is a great place to find names of banned and challenged authors. 

5. Stream a movie adaptation of a banned book or a virtual watch party of films based on banned books and host a conversation afterward. 

Cover of The Sledding Hill play adaptation, showing the shadow of a child running

6. Host a virtual read-through of the play The Sledding Hill  — based on the book by Chris Crutcher and adapted for the stage by playwright Jarrett Dapier — and assign attendees different characters. The theatrical adaptation features a cast of passionate teen characters and debates about the value of intellectual freedom and the rights of youth to read what they choose. 

  • Resource: The script is available for free from the American Library Association. 

7. Partner with a local LGBTQIA+ group to host a virtual program that addresses this statistic: “8 of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019 were challenged because of LGBTQIA+ content.” Why are LGBTQIA+ books censored? What does that say about society? What can we do to stop this?

8. Connect with a local group that assists with sending books to people who are incarcerated to see if there is interest in hosting a discussion about censorship in prisons and/or promoting their list of needed books.

9. Host an online bingo based on banned book titles or your library/organization’s activities for Banned Books Week.

10. Host a virtual banned book-themed storytime every day of Banned Books Week, with the reader dressed as banned book characters. 

11. Host a story writing contest that asks participants to imagine a world where all books were banned.

Hands illustrating a portrait

12. Invite an illustrator to demonstrate a drawing tutorial, and end the program with a discussion on graphic novels and comics that are banned because of their artwork or covers. 

13. Host a stay-at-home read-a-thon party/ball and encourage readers to take one night during Banned Books Week to open a banned book and post their thoughts in a shared space or using a unique hashtag.

14. Create an online scavenger hunt about banned poetry or banned literature.

15. Host a virtual art show featuring reimagined covers of banned books or banned book trading cards.

Open book with a hand holding a megaphone coming out of it.

16. Encourage readers to film themselves reading from their favorite banned or challenged book and submit the video to the American Library Association to be featured on the Banned Books Week YouTube Channel. 

17. While the right to read is guaranteed by the First Amendment, so is the right to protest. Host a program about different forms of activism, bringing current Black Lives Matters protests to the forefront. The program could also touch on how readers can advocate for or express their First Amendment rights, including the right to read. 

Open laptop shows 20 people's faces on a Zoom meeting. Beside the laptop is a mug.

18. Host a virtual open mic night where participants can read excerpts from their favorite banned and challenged books while enjoying coffee and tea. 

19. Hundreds of scholars around the world face threats for critical thinking and daring to share their ideas. Invite a scholar to discuss threats to academic freedom and attacks on scholars.

Cover of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, showing a scarecrow with open arms

20. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Plan a virtual program on civic engagement or the First Amendment. 

21. Censorship is scary! Draw attention to books that were challenged because they were too scary such as the Goosebumps series and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by hosting a haunted banned BOOk virtual reading or streaming the documentary that discusses the censorship of the Scary Stories series.

22. If you haven’t already selected a book club pick for September or October, consider selecting a banned or challenged book. 

Social Distanced Programs

23. Host at-home contests by putting together baggies of supplies with materials and instructions as grab-and-go kits. Encourage participants to send in photos of their creation or post them on Twitter with a specific hashtag. 

Footsteps drawn in with sidewalk chalk

24. Create a sidewalk obstacle course around the theme “Censorship is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom to Read.” Can participants balance on banned book spines and leap over the lagoon of censored words to unlock the ultimate place to explore new perspectives (their local library)? 



25. Create at-home storytime kits of banned children’s books.

26. Create an iSpy display with banned book covers or “artifacts” from banned books.

27. Create banned book-themed craft kits that users can check-out, or host a virtual craft program that focuses on a banned book design or message.

Homemade wands laying in front of a 
happy birthday cake with a lightning bolt, snitch, owl, and wizard hat decorations atop the cake.
DIY Harry Potter Wands,” jbrary.com

28. Harry Potter was a frequently challenged book. Host a make-and-take craft or tasty treat based on the banned series. 

29. Partner with local restaurants to offer a banned book spin on menu items. Those who order the menu items could receive a banned book button or bookmark. 

30. Create Banned Books Mad Libs from banned book pages.

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019 crossword puzzle

31. Create and promote “banned book bundles” of frequently banned and challenged titles that users can check out and pick up. 

32. Create your own crossword based on banned/challenged titles in your collection, or use crosswords created by the American Library Association or ACLU. 

33. Create grab-and-go Dear Banned Author kits, that include postcards, a list of banned author mailing addresses, and pens.

Social Media Programs/Activities 

34. Participate in the Dear Banned Author initiative by encouraging readers to tweet to their favorite banned authors using #BannedBooksWeek and #DearBannedAuthor. 

Hand holding three postcards in front of a bookshelf

35. Shred printed-out pages of a banned title and put them in a jar, or print out a page from a banned book and use a marker to black-out words. Post a picture and offer a prize to the first follower to guess the correct banned title.

36. Create an online voting bracket where users can vote on their favorite banned book character or title each day.

37. Create “Houses” of banned characters and ask followers to choose which group they would like to be a part of or quarantined with. 

38. Post emojis that share the plot of a banned book and ask followers to guess the title.

Book cover of "A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo." Text reads: #3 most challenged book of 2019 for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoint. ala.org/bbooks American Library Association.

39. Host a Twitter Chat discussion with followers about what books are targeted with censorship, why that is, and who gets to decide what we read. 

40. Spotlight banned books by sharing cover art and the link to the title in your digital collection on social media, especially highlighting books that were challenged because they confront subjects such as race, abilities, gender, and gender identity.

Ellie Diaz

Ellie Diaz is the Program Officer at the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. With her journalism background and fierce devotion to the freedom to read, Ellie organizes ALA’s Banned Books Week and several other projects within OIF.

Connecting Kids to Books While Your Building is Closed

By blogger Abby Johnson | abbylibrarian

Many of our library buildings are closed to the public right now (including mine). So how can we connect kids to the great books we have in our digital collections? I have some ideas for marketing digital books to kids and I would love your suggestions in the comments.

First step? Make sure they are there.

This sounds simple, but I know my library’s e-book collection is mostly comprised of adult and teen books because those are traditionally the e-books that have circulated for us. With the astronomical cost of digital books, it didn’t make sense for me to buy too many kids’ titles because they simply weren’t used at the rate that our books for older readers were. Now, with kids out of school and unable to access our physical books, I’m beefing up our e-book offerings for younger readers.

The good news is that even though prices are still very high, sometimes kids’ e-books are not as expensive as adult e-books, which can help you bulk up the collection. If you’re really starting from scratch, reach out to your rep who can help suggest ways to find less expensive books that might allow you to quickly build up your collection.

Next, tell your patrons about your digital collection in general.

This is definitely something that’s a work in progress for all of us, I’d guess. What avenues have you used to get the word out about your digital collection? We have done email blasts and frequent social media posts. This week I started adding some reviews of digital material to our weekly New Books email along with our general information email and a note to shoot me an email if anyone needed help getting set up with digital books. Our local newspaper is doing a COVID-19 edition and we’re taking out a full page ad to promote our digital services.

Then, promote titles! Curate lists on Overdrive.

Screenshot of a Libby digital booklist for marketing digital books

If your library uses Overdrive, you have the ability to curate lists of materials that appear on your Overdrive site and on Libby or Sora. Utilize curated lists to share staff recommendations, seasonal “displays” or lists that coordinate with school assignments to help with nontraditional instruction. Creating digital “displays” is a way of marketing digital books that mirrors the physical displays you’re familiar with making. You already know how to do this!

During typical times, I try to switch out my lists about once a month, but now that we’re All Digital All the Time, it may be a good idea to change the lists more often depending on how much your families are using them. I like to set them to display all titles, but display available titles first so readers see available books right away.

If you’ve never curated lists before, reach out to your Overdrive rep and I know they will be happy to help you get started.

Create Collections on Hoopla

Example of a Hoopla digital booklist screenshot for marketing digital books

Did you know that you can create your own Collections on Hoopla? In the library dashboard, click on the Collections tab and you can create private collections. Check the box to show them to your patrons when you’re ready. These will show up in the large list of categories (which are a little hard to find), but (more usefully) you can also link directly to them. Here’s another place where you can do staff picks, seasonal lists or lists that tie in to your local schools’ curricula. Hoopla’s giant catalog can be intimidating to navigate, so marketing digital books on Hoopla by creating collections can really help your patrons out. If budget’s a concern, rest assured that the price per download is shown directly in the search when adding items to a collection so you can easily limit the books you’re promoting to the less expensive titles or formats if you wish.

Add lists in your OPAC or a staff blog

Screenshot of an Overdrive digital booklist for marketing digital books

Does your patron-facing catalog allow you to add book lists? Consider switching them over to items that are available digitally. I honestly don’t know how many people I’m reaching with these catalog lists, but my hope is that I’m capturing SOME patrons who might not already know about our ebook offerings and whose first instinct is to head to our library catalog instead.

We’ve also shifted gears with our staff blog and are completely focusing on promoting digital services and materials, as well as links to curated resources from outside the library. I’m also mobilizing our team to post more frequently while our buildings are closed since the blog is one of the few ways we have to communicate with our patrons. Our blog posts can be shared on our Facebook page to reach even more folks.

If you’re not a person with permission to curate lists directly on your e-book platforms, you can potentially create lists linking directly to e-book titles on a website, blog, or even a Google doc that you could share with patrons or in response to reader’s advisory questions.

No E-Books? No problem.

Don’t have an e-book collection of your own? There are many publishers and platforms offering free trials or free limited collections this spring in response to school and library closures and there’s no reason you can’t look for your favorites and be marketing digital books on those platforms with patrons. The Indiana State Library has a pretty good list of some of the resources available, as well as links to other state libraries with additional resources. Even if you yourself don’t have the authority to add any of the platforms currently offering free services, it may be worth a look to see if there are e-books or e-audiobooks available for free that you would want to booktalk or highlight for your patrons.

SELCO Consulting Visits

SELCO consultants have many responsibilities but two stand out:

  • provide consulting and other problem-solving assistance to libraries
  • build relationships with, and among, libraries. 
To this end, we would like to pay libraries a visit; SELCO consultants will be in touch soon to (hopefully) schedule a time. We can discuss anything that would be useful and want to hear what SELCO needs to know about each library. 
SELCO consultants are:
These site visits, which will be ongoing, are going to be extremely important as we try to serve  libraries as effectively as possible. Thank you in advance for making time to see us.