Libraries around the country and the world are hosting events this month as part of the September Project, a grassroots effort to encourage library programming about freedom during the month of September.
The September Project was founded in 2004 by Sarah Washburn, library program manager at TechSoup, and David Silver, associate professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco. “When the project was first started, our nation was in a very different place,” Washburn said. “People were very quiet and weren’t necessarily speaking to each other about important issues.”
In the early years, most programs were remembrances or other programming centered around the September 11 attacks. Many programs are still remembrances, but Washburn said that others have taken on a more local focus, where communities can discuss current issues of importance to them. For example, the O’Grady Library at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington, will host a slide show created by journalism students about a local food co-op’s decision to boycott Israeli products, with 40–80 quotes representing multiple perspectives on the issue.
The co-op’s boycott caused “a pretty big rift in the community, and people were polarized suddenly,” said Irina Gendelman, assistant professor of instructional design and coordinator of the slide show. “This is an effort to contribute to that conversation.” Gendelman added that it’s an opportunity to demonstrate the library’s value as an information resource when the community faces controversies.
Goffstown (N.H.) Public Library is hosting events throughout September, as it has for several years. They include staying open for 24 hours on September 11, a knit-a-thon to produce helmet liners and scarves for troops, a candlelight vigil, movie screenings and book discussions, and a reading of pieces from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
“I believe that libraries have been charged with a lofty task,” said Sandy Whipple, adult services and outreach librarian at the library. “We stand in polar opposition to all that terrorism is.”
Whipple said that the library’s September Project events attract people of all ages and political beliefs. One program from a previous year, an installation of New Hampshire’s Eyes Wide Open exhibit, was controversial because it was created and owned by the anti-war Quakers. Even the controversy had value, however. “You could see people coming together and not agreeing, but having discussions,” Whipple said.
The Country Day School in Huntsville, Alabama, participates annually, this year reading and discussing Carmen Agra Deedy’s 14 Cows for America, which tells of an unexpected gift from a Maasai village in Kenya to the United States in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Librarian Roberta Malcolm also told of her travels to Africa, which included a visit to a Maasai village and school. “I find [the September Project] to be a positive way of talking about September 11,” Malcolm said. “When you’re talking with kids, all they’ve seen in many cases is the horror.”
The American Library Association hosted a Qur’an reading on its front steps September 11, in response to Rev. Terry Jones’s well-publicized plans to burn Qur’ans on that date. “The librarians of America will not stand by and let ignorance rule,” said ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels. “For every would-be book burner, there are thousands of readers who will speak out for the freedom to peaceably assemble and read whatever they choose.” For video from the Qur’an reading, see AL Focus.