The American Library Association (ALA) reports that books for children and young adults with themes of race, gender, and sexual identity faced an “unprecedented” number of challenges last year, reflecting a growing national trend of attempted censorship.
Conservative parent groups and others posed challenges. Members of the Proud Boys and armed activists have threatened librarians and elected officials with violence at school board and library board meetings, according to the group.
The ALA also stated in a report released to coincide with next week’s Banned Books Week that challenges from January to August this year are already significantly higher than a year ago and on track to exceed the 2021 figure.
The ALA revealed that in the first eight months of the year, there were 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources in schools, universities, and public libraries, attempting to remove or restrict 1,651 different titles.
There were 729 attempts to censor library resources in 2021, with 1,597 books targeted. It pointed to “a surprisingly consistent and coordinated campaign of censorship,” according to James LaRue, executive director of Colorado’s Garfield County public library district.
“In addition to an increase in challenge volume, the scope of challenges has also expanded,” the ALA said, adding that the theme of the week will be “Books Unite Us.” Censorship separates us.”
More than 70% of the 681 attempts to limit library resources were directed at multiple titles. There were instances where hundreds of titles were challenged at a time and made districtwide as opposed to at a specific school.
“In the past, most challenges to library resources only sought to remove or restrict a single title.”
The figures are consistent with those of other organizations that have been tracking the increasing efforts of rightwing politicians and activists to censor literature in schools.
Pen America, a non-profit organization that works to protect free expression in the United States, reported in April that 1,586 bans had been implemented in 86 school districts across 26 states in the nine months leading up to the end of March.
The American Library Association’s (ALA) office of intellectual freedom (OIF) reported that the challenges have become increasingly hostile, citing 27 instances of police reports filed against librarians over books on the shelves.
“Threats against library employees became more common. “Proud Boys and armed activists demonstrated at school and library board meetings,” according to the report.
“Some of those challenging books have used intimidation tactics, threatening board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, and librarians with recall, firing, and, increasingly, criminal prosecution for distribution of materials alleged to be ‘obscene,’ ‘harmful to minors,’ or ‘pervasively vulgar,'” LaRue added. To date, neither local prosecutors nor law enforcement have pursued these complaints, claiming that no crimes were committed.”
According to the ALA, the challenges reported in 2021 represented the highest number of attempted book bans since the list began more than 20 years ago.
Gender Queer, Maia Kobabe’s 2019 autobiography about growing up with a non-binary identity, led the pack with 120 challenges. Speakers at an Illinois school board meeting called it “pornographic” and “a form of grooming,” but the book was not banned.
Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson, and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M Johnson were also among the top ten most challenged books. All of them have LBGTQ+ themes.