NEW YORK (AP) – Attempted book bans and restrictions in school and public libraries continue to rise, setting a record in 2022, according to a new report from the American Library Association released Thursday.
The association collected more than 1,200 challenges in 2022, nearly double the then-record total from 2021 and by far the most since ALA began keeping records 20 years ago.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Deborah Caldwell-Ston, who directs the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. “The last two years have been exhausting, terrifying, infuriating.”
Thursday’s report not only documents the growing number of challenges, but also their changing nature. A few years ago, complaints usually came from parents and other community members and were about a single book. Now the petitions are often for multiple removals, organized by national groups such as the conservative Moms for Liberty, which has a mission to “unite, educate and empower parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government.”
More than 2,500 different books were contributed last year, compared to 1,858 in 2021 and just 566 in 2019. In many cases, hundreds of books have been challenged in a single appeal. The ALA bases its findings on media reports and voluntary reports from libraries, and acknowledges that the numbers could be far higher.
Librarians across the country spoke of harassment and threats of violence or legal action.
“Every day, professional librarians sit down with parents to thoughtfully determine what reading material is most appropriate for their child’s needs,” ALA President Lesa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada said in a statement. “Many librarians now face threats to their employment, personal safety, and in some cases, threats of criminal prosecution for providing books to young people that they and their parents want to read.”
Caldwell-Stone says some books have been targeted by liberals for racist language — notably Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” — but the vast majority of complaints have come from conservatives, targeting works with LGBTIQA+ or racial themes. They include “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobaba, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, and the full-length edition of “The 1619 Project,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times report. the legacy of slavery in the usa
Laws easing book restrictions have been proposed or passed in Arizona, Iowa, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma, among other states. In Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis approved laws to screen reading materials and limit classroom discussion of gender identity, books about race that are being pulled indefinitely or temporarily include John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” Colleen Hoover’s “Hopeless” and Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Grace Lin’s picture story “Dim Sum for Everyone!”
A Florida school district recently removed dozens of books from its middle and high schools, including numerous works by novelist Jodi Picoult, Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning thrillers “Beloved” and James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride,” a decision the bestselling author criticized on Twitter as “arbitrary and borderline absurd”.
DeSantis called reports of the mass bans a “hoax,” saying in a statement released earlier this month that the allegations reveal that “some are trying to use our schools for indoctrination.”
Some books are returned. Officials at Duval County Public Schools in Florida were widely criticized after they removed “Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates,” a children’s biography of the late Puerto Rican baseball star. They announced in February that the book would be back on the shelves, explaining that they had to review it to make sure it didn’t violate any state laws.