Book Banning Attempts Are at Record Highs

A new report from the American Library Association found that the number of challenged titles increased by 65 percent in 2023

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe was the ALA's most challenged book in both 2021 and 2022.  Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Book-banning efforts reached the highest level ever documented by the American Library Association (ALA) last year, according to a new report.

In 2023, 4,240 unique titles were targeted for censorship in schools and libraries across the country—a 65 percent increase from 2022.

Book challenges are also becoming increasingly common in public libraries. The number of titles targeted at public libraries rose by 92 percent last year, while school libraries saw an 11 percent increase.

“I wake up every morning hoping this is over,” Emily Drabinski, president of ALA, tells the New York Times’ Alexandra Alter. “What I find striking is that this is still happening, and it’s happening with more intensity.”

The reported numbers represent “only a snapshot” of censorship attempts throughout the year, says the association. The ALA calculates its totals using reports filed by library professionals and book challenges covered in the media. Censorship attempts that don’t fall into these categories are not included.

While book banning has a long history in the United States, researchers have tracked a sharp uptick in censorship efforts in recent years. In 2020, the ALA reported that 223 unique book titles were challenged. That number rose to 1,858 in 2021 and then 2,571 in 2022.

Many of these books spotlight the lived experiences of LGBTQ individuals and people of color. In 2023, nearly half of the titles fell into this category.

“Our communities and our country are stronger because of diversity,” says Drabinski in a statement from the ALA. “Libraries that reflect their communities’ diversity promote learning and empathy that some people want to hide or eliminate.”

Many of the challenges came from a relatively small number of activist groups, as Deborah Caldwell-Stone, head of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, tells NPR’s Tovia Smith.

“We’re not seeing an individual read a book and raise a concern about a book,” she says. “We’re seeing organized groups go to school boards, go to library boards, demanding the removal of dozens, if not hundreds, of books at a time. They are simply downloading lists from advocacy groups and demanding removal of those books.”

The number of challenges also varied by location. According to the ALA, 17 states saw attempts to ban more than 100 titles: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The association will publish its annual list of America’s most challenged books on April 8, which falls at the beginning of National Library Week.

In the ALA’s 2022 and 2021 lists, the most challenged book was Gender Queer: A Memoir, a graphic memoir about author Maia Kobabe coming out as nonbinary and asexual. In 2022, Gender Queer was followed by All Boys Aren’t Blue, George M. Johnson’s collection of essays about growing up Black and queer, and The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison’s seminal novel about a young Black girl dealing with racism and abuse in the 1940s.

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