Wauwatosa West Library Celebrates Banned Books Week With Display in Library

Claire Guttormson, Writer

Chloe Ellery with the display she and librarian Derek DeVinney created in the library (Claire Guttorm)

Beginning September 28th, libraries across the country proudly displayed their copies of Speak and All American Boys, celebrating the freedom to read by recognizing books that have been banned in schools and in libraries. Wauwatosa West acknowledged Banned Books Week with an exhibit of their own which highlights often censored texts.


“Banned Books Week is a week that the American Library Association flags each year, and it’s a week to bring awareness to the different efforts to censor books in schools and libraries, and it’s also to celebrate your freedom to read those books that are often challenged,” said Derek DeVinney, Wauwatosa West School Librarian.


The West library displayed a group of texts that have been, and continue to be, challenged and prohibited, in an eye-catching exhibit designed and built by DeVinney and Tosa West sophomore, Chloe Ellery.


“The inspiration was mostly fire, which is one of the more extreme forms of censorship, especially when the Nazis used to put books in the flames. So we used that as kind of our inspiration, and we took lots of other inspiration from Pinterest and other previous displays,” said Ellery.


The display is engulfed in paper flames, a reminder of some of the more dramatic historical instances of censorship. Wrapped around the carts is bright yellow tape, marking it as a crime scene. The books themselves have their own bookmarks, each made to look like it is burning. They describe why the book has been banned, allowing students who check them out important context to their reading.


Despite the efforts of schools and libraries to remove these books from the hands of students, both Ellery and DeVinney argue for their place on the shelf.


“It’s really important to remember, you know, taking away people’s right to freedom does go against the first amendment,” said Ellery. “I think it’s really important to get the messages of those books across and that everyone has access to them.”


Many of these books have been banned for their inclusion of drugs, alcohol, or sexual content, along with those that present ideas that challenge the carefully curated values fed to young people by school curriculums. DeVinney argues that just as no book is defined by it’s cover, no book should be defined by one scene. 


“Even though they are challenged, I think there’s a lot of value within them,” said DeVinney. 


The library is dedicated to supporting access to all forms of literature despite their pasts. 


“One of the goals of the library is to provide important access to information for all people. And it’s one of the core beliefs of librarians that everyone should have basically intellectual freedom, where there’s open access to ideas” said DeVinny.

Banned books week only lasts through October 2nd, but the conversation about banning books is never ending. Visit the American Library Association’s website for more information.