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Book Censorship on the Rise in U.S. Libraries, ALA Reports a 20% Increase in Challenges in 2023

The assault on Black history and that of other minority groups in the U.S. have ramped up with the recent banning of books. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has released alarming preliminary data indicating a significant surge in attempts to censor books, materials, and services across public, school, and academic libraries in the United States during the first eight months of 2023.

The American Library Association (ALA) compiled crucial data on book challenges from reports filed by library professionals and news stories published nationwide. This year, between January 1 and August 31, 2023, OIF documented a staggering 20% increase in challenges, with 695 attempts to censor library materials and services. The challenges encompassed 1,915 unique titles, marking an escalation from the same period in 2022.

Books written by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQIA+ community are primary targets. Challenges within public libraries accounted for nearly half of documented cases, a sharp rise from 16% last year.

Rise in Multiple Title Challenges

What sets 2023 apart from previous years is the continued surge in simultaneous challenges to multiple titles. A staggering 92% of books challenged were part of attempts to censor multiple titles, compared to 90% in the first eight months of 2022. Cases involving challenges to 100 or more books were reported in 11 states, a significant increase from just six states during the same reporting period in 2022 and none in 2021. Previously, most challenges aimed to remove or restrict a single book. However, this year, a single challenge targeting multiple titles has become the predominant contributor to the rise in censorship attempts.

“These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights,” said OIF Director Deborah Caldwell-Stone. “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.”

She further emphasized the expanding focus of groups with political agendas. “Expanding beyond their well-organized attempts to sanitize school libraries, groups with a political agenda have turned their crusade to public libraries, the very embodiment of the First Amendment in our society,” Caldwell-Stone insisted. “This places politics over the well-being and education of young people and everyone’s right to access and use the public library.”

Public Cases of Censorship

To ALA documented several public cases of censorship:

• Samuels Public Library (Front Royal, Va.): A local pressure group called “Clean Up Samuels” organized book-banning BBQ events, intending to fill out Request for Reconsideration forms for library materials. Their efforts primarily targeted LGBTQIA+ materials, resulting in over 500 forms completed for nearly 150 unique titles. County board members, influenced by the group, voted to withhold 75 percent of the library’s budget until it took action to restrict access to certain books.

• Clinton (Tenn.) Public Library: In response to challenges to books related to gender identity and sexual orientation, the library board voted against creating a special section for such materials. Challenges persisted, with group members advocating for the censorship of LGBTQIA+ representation in library materials. They also called for the library director’s resignation and threatened community members who defended access to resources. In August, elected officials asked the sheriff to investigate whether 17 books violated Tennessee’s criminal obscenity laws.

• Urbandale (Iowa) Community School District: Officials flagged 374 books for removal from school libraries in response to a state law defining age-appropriate content. The list included titles addressing sex, sex education, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The list was revised to 65 books, with titles like “The Kite Runner” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” removed.

Call to Action and Banned Books Week

“The antidote to the contagion of censorship is public, vocal support for libraries,” said ALA President Emily Drabinski, who encouraged public support for libraries and for individuals to attend local school or library board meetings, participate in Banned Books Week initiatives, and join the Unite Against Book Bans campaign to combat censorship.

Banned Books Week 2023, scheduled for October 1–7, draws attention to attempts to remove books and materials from libraries, schools, and bookstores. Officials said the theme, “Let Freedom Read,” highlights the urgent need to defend the right to read and support the community of readers, library staff, educators, authors, publishers, and booksellers.


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