Attempts to ban books and other library materials and services have reached the highest level since the American Library Association (ALA) started recording such incidents decades ago, according to a preliminary analysis from the organization.
Through the first eight months of 2023, there were 695 challenges to materials at K-12 schools and academic libraries across the U.S., the ALA announced in a preliminary report this week. This number is a 20 percent increase from the same timeframe in 2022, and is on pace to break that year’s total, which currently holds the record for books challenged.
In 2023 alone, around 1,915 titles have been targeted for censorship within those 695 challenges. If the current pace continues, more than 2,570 titles will face challenges by the end of 2023.
The preliminary report comes just before Banned Books Week, which takes place annually in the first week of October. The week is meant to highlight historical and current attempts at keeping materials out of the hands of readers.
“Most of the challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community,” the ALA wrote in its report. These challenges are part of a well-funded far right campaign — orchestrated by political action committees, parents’ groups and school board members nationwide — to suppress information on gender, sexuality and race in schools under the guise of “parental rights.”
The ALA cautioned that the figures presented in the report are “only a snapshot of book censorship throughout the year” due to the fact that some challenges may go unreported by media.
“Groups with a political agenda have turned their crusade to public libraries, the very embodiment of the First Amendment in our society,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “This places politics over the well-being and education of young people and everyone’s right to access and use the public library.”
These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights. To allow a group of people or any individual, no matter how powerful or loud, to become the decision-maker about what books we can read or whether libraries exist, is to place all of our rights and liberties in jeopardy.
The ALA defines a challenge to a book or other material as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.” Such complaints have been filed across the country at unforeseen rates in recent years.
Within the first eight months of 2022, for example, just six states saw 100 or more works face complaints from community members, the ALA noted. In 2023 so far, 11 states have seen 100 or more titles face complaints, according to this year’s preliminary report.
Caldwell-Stone told The Associated Press that she doesn’t believe challenges to books will subside anytime soon.
“I think this trend is going to continue, at least for as long these groups want to go after whole categories of books,” she said.
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