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Attempted Book Bans Last Year Targeted More Than 4,240 Titles, an All-Time High

There is “absolute evidence” of an effort “to remove particular books,” an American Library Association official said.

A new report from the American Library Association (ALA) notes that there is “absolute evidence” that book bans have become increasingly organized, with bans skyrocketing in 2023 compared to prior years.

Around 4,240 individual book titles were challenged overall last year by parents, political groups and other individuals across the country — a 65 percent increase from the rate seen in 2022, when 2,571 titles were challenged.

According to the ALA report, public community libraries saw book challenges increase by 92 percent year-to-year, while school libraries saw an 11 percent increase. Books featuring LGBTQ and/or BIPOC characters made up nearly half (47 percent) of all challenges, according to the report.

The ALA did not yet name specific titles, but plans to release a “top ten” list of books that were challenged on April 8, to coincide with Right to Read Day.

The ALA has documented book challenges since 1990. The number of bans sought in 2023 is the highest the organization has ever seen, but it’s also an incomplete number, the report notes, as the data “represents only a snapshot of book censorship” because many book ban attempts are not formally flagged or do not get coverage from media.

Most of the challenges last year were made by far right parents and organizations, including extremist groups like Moms for Liberty, which campaigns against books containing LGBTQ characters or themes on the basis that such content is supposedly “inappropriate” — denying LGBTQ youth the opportunity to read stories that represent their identities and struggles.

“What we’re seeing is absolute evidence that there is actually an organized effort to remove particular books from both school libraries and public libraries,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “They are targeting the same titles with the same tactics, these mass challenges.”

In response, organizations have formed to challenge book bans and other right-wing efforts that target LGBTQ and BIPOC students. One such group, Grandparents for Truth, which launched in June of last year, is a project of the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way (PFAW). Members of Grandparents for Truth counter the attacks against curricula or library content by speaking out at board meetings, supporting progressive candidates for school board and opposing extremist candidates running for those seats.

“Authoritarianism is taking shape now in a way that is really, really, really serious, and we felt that there were organizations out there pretending to be for freedom and liberty, but really what they mean by that is freedom and liberty for only particular people, which was not OK,” said Marge Baker, PFAW executive director, speaking to Nadra Nittle of The 19th in December. “So, we felt like we needed to launch something that very visibly and viscerally confronted that message.”

A lot of the efforts are “based on Christian nationalism,” Baker noted, with advocates of far right book bans and other curricula restrictions wrongly claiming “that this country was founded as a Christian nation.”

“What they really mean is that it was founded as a White Christian nation, so material that is ‘acceptable’ is material that only uplifts those traditions,” Baker added. “So you end up with a whole host of communities that historically have been marginalized and attacked who are ending up being attacked by this latest book banning and censorship … in the name of freedom, but this is not about freedom, and we know it’s not.”

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