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Art & Culture

Book Ban Attempts in US Libraries Nearly Doubled in 2022

  • Craig Miller
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  • March 31, 2023
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  • 4 minute read
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Book Ban Attempts in US Libraries Nearly Doubled in 2022

Key Takeaways
  • Book ban attempts in US libraries and schools significantly increased in 2022, with 1,269 recorded attempts compared to 729 in 2021, marking the highest number of complaints in over two decades.
  • Conservative groups have become more organized, utilizing social media to spread their campaigns against books that address LGBTQ rights, gender identity, and racial inequality.
  • Librarians and educators have faced harassment, threats to their careers, and accusations of promoting obscenity due to the surge in book ban attempts.
  • Legislation, such as the "Parents Bill of Rights," has been proposed, sparking concerns that book bans may become even more prevalent in the future.
  • The ongoing debate surrounding book bans raises questions about intellectual freedom, the role of libraries and educators, and the rights of parents to guide their children's education.

Efforts to ban books in libraries and schools across the United States saw a significant increase in 2022, with 1,269 recorded attempts, according to a report published by the American Library Association (ALA).

This marks the highest number of complaints since the ALA began tracking censorship efforts over two decades ago and nearly doubles the 729 attempts in 2021.

The actual number of bans may be higher as the data is compiled from reported book challenges and news reports.

Increasingly Organized Campaigns

Books have become a focal point in a broader culture war, with conservative groups and elected officials rallying against titles that touch on LGBTQ rights, gender identity, and racial inequality.

The ALA found that the majority of the 2,571 unique titles that drew complaints in 2022 were books by or about LGBTQ people and people of color.

Conservative groups, such as Moms for Liberty and Utah Parents United, have become more organized and effective in their efforts to restrict access to books.

Social media has played a significant role in spreading these campaigns, with lists of allegedly inappropriate books circulating online.

Moreover, challenges are increasingly being filed against multiple books, reflecting a shift from prior years when complaints were usually about a single title.

Social media has played a significant role in spreading these campaigns, with lists of allegedly inappropriate books circulating online.

Librarians and Educators Under Fire

The surge in book ban attempts has affected both school and public libraries.

In 2022, 60% of tracked complaints were directed at books and materials in school libraries and classrooms, while 40% targeted public libraries.

Librarians and educators have faced accusations of promoting obscenity or pedophilia, harassment, and threats to their careers and reputations.

Some libraries have even been threatened with a loss of public funding over their refusal to remove books.

Legislative Efforts to Regulate Library Content

Free speech advocates and librarians are concerned about new legislation that seeks to regulate library content or how librarians perform their duties.

In 2021, seven states, including Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida, and Utah, passed laws imposing restrictions on libraries.

Recently, Republicans in the House introduced a “Parents Bill of Rights,” which some educational advocacy organizations fear could lead to more book bans.

Balancing Parental Rights and Intellectual Freedom

Librarians and teachers argue that parental rights should not enable a small group of parents to dictate what books are accessible to all students and families.

The ALA and other advocates for intellectual freedom believe that while parents have the right to guide their children’s reading, they should not impose their choices on the entire community.

A Brief History of Book Bans in Recent Years

Book banning has a long history, but in recent years, there has been a resurgence of efforts to remove books from libraries and schools in the United States.

This upswing in book bans can be traced back to various factors, including the rise of social media, increased political polarization, and an amplified focus on social issues.

Social Media and Polarization

The widespread use of social media has enabled rapid dissemination of information, leading to increased awareness and mobilization among conservative groups seeking to restrict access to certain books.

Controversial topics, such as LGBTQ rights, gender identity, and racial inequality, have often been at the center of these book bans.

Social media has amplified these disputes, turning them into national news stories and furthering the divide between opposing groups.

Increased Focus on Social Issues

As social issues have gained prominence in public discourse, books addressing these topics have become targets for book bans.

Books discussing race, racism, activism, and the experiences of marginalized communities have been particularly susceptible to censorship attempts.

As a result, many classics, like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” as well as newer works like Juno Dawson’s “This Book is Gay” and Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” have faced removal from libraries and schools across the country.

Recent Legislative Efforts

In addition to grassroots efforts, legislative action has also played a role in the increased frequency of book bans.

Laws imposing restrictions on libraries have been passed in several states, and proposed legislation, such as the “Parents Bill of Rights,” has sparked concerns that book bans may become even more prevalent in the future.

This brief history of book bans in recent years highlights the complex and evolving relationship between literature, social issues, and political ideologies.

The ongoing debate surrounding book bans raises important questions about intellectual freedom, the role of libraries and educators, and the rights of parents to guide their children’s education.

Craig Miller

Craig Miller

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