Schools Banning Books at Highest Rate Ever Documented

As policymakers continue to question the books inside schools, the ALA reports their highest amount of challenged books ever documented.

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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challenged books

The number of challenged books in public school libraries has taken such a dramatic jump over the past year that it conjures up images of the book burning’s seen across America in the 1950s. As the numbers continue to increase, American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom director, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, says she has never been as busy as she is today. This increase in challenged books doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon.

“A year ago, we might have been receiving one, maybe two reports a day about a book being challenged at a library. And usually those calls would be for guidance on how to handle a challenge or for materials that support the value of the work being challenged,” Caldwell-Stone explained to The Associated Press. “Now, we’re getting three, four, five reports a day, many in need of support and some in need of a great deal of support.” Then she added, “We’re on the phone constantly.”

There are numerous instances of books being banned in public school libraries or attempts at such a move. Along with this rise in challenged books numbers, there is also a sickening trend – threats against school librarians. These have been directed at librarians who have not pulled some of the controversial books many parents find offensive.

challenged books

The numbers that the ALA have reported come from their annual State of America’s Library Report. In it, they concluded that in 2021 they had 729 total challenges, which included nearly 1,600 books. This figure doubles what they saw in 2020 and is also the highest seen by the ALA since they started counting challenged books over 20 years ago.

What they also report is that their numbers may actually be on the low end. The ALA collects their challenged books numbers through media accounts and cases they derive from librarians, educators, and other community members. Any books that are pulled from a library before a challenge has been brought forth, are not counted in their final totals.

“Nothing would surprise me,” Caldwell-Stone says of the possibility of the challenged books numbers growing for 2022. More and more school boards are getting into the act of taking a closer look at what is on the shelves in their public school libraries and more legislation is being passed to rid school libraries of controversial material. Just last week, the Georgia legislature passed a bill that would allow the process for removing books “harmful to minors” from public school libraries to move at a faster clip.

Republican lawmakers and conservative parents have been working the front lines in trying to get the challenged books removed. Two of the top challenged books also find themselves in the news the most. They are Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy, and Gender Queer by author Maia Kobabe. The former is a coming-of-age story that is narrated by a young gay man and the latter is a story about sexual identity.

challenged books

The controversy surrounding both challenged books is plenty. For instance, Gender Queer, which is more like a graphic novel rather than a regular novel, includes an image of teenage boys performing oral sex on each other.

It isn’t only LGBTQ books that are being challenged. Books that have racial themes are also on the challenged books chopping block. The list of challenged books includes George Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, Juno Dawson’s This Book Is Gay, Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta, and Angie Thomas’ bestseller, The Hate U Give.

To challenge a book, a person would file a formal, written complaint that requests a book be removed because of “content or appropriateness.” As more and more parents have begun to find their voices and are trying to do what they feel is best for the well-being of their children in school, expect the number of challenged books to continue to rise. Lawmakers such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin, have made it a point to go after these controversial books.

Where do you stand on the number of challenged books coming fourth? Is this material acceptable for public school libraries? Do you think these books should be pulled? It’s a fine line that we are walking here, and everyone has an opinion.

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