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MLK Library Holds Last Banned Books Event Before Renovation

The libations had names such as “Bugs in Amber,” inspired by author Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Formula 86” inspired by Roald Dahl’s “The Witches,” both representing books once banned from public libraries and schools, along with Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and other books once deemed “unacceptable.”

The D.C. Public Library system celebrated by distributing hundreds of “banned books” during what has come to be known as “Banned Books Week,” typically the last week in September. But the celebration featuring literary craft cocktails, authors and other crafts people selling handmade goods, food and a host of bibliophiles and other lovers of books, was really meant to say a fond farewell to the old MLK Library, the main public library in downtown D.C.

The building, designed by renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was designated an historic landmark in 2007 and will close next year for a three-year modernization and expansion project.

Included in the upgrades will be a welcoming and inspiring space that appeals to discovery and learning with new seating along windows to take advantage of natural light and views, a variety of reading/studying spaces, new comfortable lounge seating and display shelving for books and other materials.

New shelving for fiction and nonfiction books, media collections, international languages, periodical magazines, newspapers and reference collection will also be part of the major renovation, along with download stations and a new printing/copying center.

Friday’s “UNCENSOREDDC: The Cocktail Party” followed on the heels of a social media scavenger hunt sponsored by the D.C. Public Library Foundation where hunters searched for banned books on Instagram and other social media platforms.

Apart from sampling artisan cocktails like “Catcher in the Rye,” named for the banned book by J.D. Salinger, revelers danced to the tunes of local DJ Ayer and an indie band which played the last hour.

Ashley Reneé, a book lover, gushed about her experience with libraries and librarians.

“You have done so much to educate us,” she said, referring to this journalist, who is also a librarian. “I want you to know that I love libraries and can’t live without them!”

After having a libation featuring Papa’s Pilar Rum, an American rum that pays homage to author Ernest Hemingway, whose nickname was “Papa” and had a proclivity towards rum drinks, Ashley was adventurous and went on to try the “Catcher in the Rye,” a rye whiskey concoction served in a martini glass.

Balloons decorated the great hall of the library that read “SMUT,” “DIRTY,” “OBSCENE,” and “FILTH” coining some of the names attributed to the banned books they defended.

This year’s theme was “Diversity,” which celebrated literature written by diverse writers which were either challenged or banned all together, as well as exploring what led these books to be banned.

Martin Luther King Jr. Library will reopen in 2020 with a brand-new interior and increased reader and community services.

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