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Book challenges reach historic highs, American Library Association reports

Most of the challenged titles were written by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQ community, the ALA found.
The wave of attempted book banning and restrictions continues to intensify, the American Library Association reported Friday. Numbers for 2022 already approach last year's totals, which were the highest in decades.
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, in 2021.Rick Bowmer / AP file

Books have been challenged in libraries across the country at historic rates so far this year, with the vast majority of titles written by a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ community or centered on the topic of racial, gender or sexual diversity.

According to a new report by the American Library Association, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 there were 695 attempts to censor library materials or services across the country, compared with 681 similar challenges during the same period last year. In total, 1,915 unique titles have been disputed (some censorship attempts include multiple book titles), a 20% increase over the same time period last year, preliminary data released Tuesday by the ALA showed.

“These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s? Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement. “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.”

This year is on pace to surpass last year’s total number of book challenges, 1,269 challenges to remove 2,500 titles, which was the highest number of attempted library book removals since the ALA began tracking such data in 2001.

The record number of book challenges coincides with a nationwide debate in schools and state legislatures over whether books and coursework that contain topics on LGBTQ identities are appropriate for children. Currently, 11 states restrict classroom instruction on sexual orientation in some capacity, and five require parental consent for children to learn LGBTQ-inclusive curricula, according to Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank.

While the?ALA said most of the books challenged so far this year are about or written by people of color or people who identify as LGBTQ, it did not specify how many of the titles fit into one or both of those categories.

Titles challenged this year include both newer publications, such as the illustrated memoir “Gender Queer,” which chronicles nonbinary author Maia Kobabe’s journey of self-identity, and classics such as Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer-winning novel “Beloved,” about a formerly enslaved family.?

Texas is handedly the front-runner for book challenges, the ALA found, with 1,120 titles challenged so far this year, the most of any state. Virginia came in second with 356 titles disputed since January. Nine other states — including culture war bastions such as Florida and solidly blue states like Connecticut —? had more than 100 book titles challenged so far this year, the data shows. Only six states had more than 100 titles challenged last year, the ALA said.

As the ALA continues to track book censorship across the country, some states are starting to release their lists of challenged or banned books.

Last week, the Alabama Public Library Service said it will issue a list of books that it considers inappropriate for children. And last month, Florida’s Education Department released a list of about 300 books that the state’s school districts removed from school libraries during the last school year. In both states, dozens of the removed books focus on LGBTQ identities or race.?

Last week, the Biden administration sent an email to reporters, announcing the appointment of a former Obama administration official, Matt Nosanchuk, to lead the Department of Education’s response to what it described as “book bans” occurring in school libraries nationwide.

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