This year's Banned Books Week, the ALA’s annual celebration of the freedom to read, is set to run from September 18-24 under the theme "Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us." And there is no question that it comes at a critical time.
In a release today, ALA officials reported 681 documented attempts to ban or restrict library resources in schools, universities, and public libraries through the first eight months of 2022, on pace to shatter the 729 challenges ALA tracked in 2021. The challenges thus far in 2022 have targeted some 1,651 different titles—already more than during all of 2021—with some 70% of this year's challenges targeting multiple titles. In past years, most challenges sought to remove or restrict a single title.
ALA officials said the 729 challenges in 2021 was the highest number of challenges tracked since the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom began keeping stats some 20 years ago. It also marked an alarming spike. In 2020, ALA reported, 273 books were challenged or banned, and some 377 challenges were reported in 2019; the ALA attributed the decline to the pandemic.
Furthermore, ALA officials said that once again, the vast majority of targeted books in 2022 are by or about Black or LGBTQ people, continuing a troubling trend that has been growing for years. And in a new report issued this week, ALA officials acknowledged that the current surge in book bans is being driven by a right-wing political strategy organized at the national level and executed at the local level.
"Organizations like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education provided resources including target lists, talking points, and planning documents supporting book challenges," reads the recently released ALA's Field Report 2021: Banned and Challenged Books, which details the book banning landscape in America. "Think tanks such as the Manhattan Institute and the Heritage Foundation advanced model legislation and policies targeting 'divisive concepts' and 'critical race theory' in curricula and libraries. Republican PACs supported the election of pro-censorship candidates to school and library boards. Fringe ideas from Mass Resistance and QAnon were normalized through right-wing media outlets, politicians, and algorithmic elevation on social media sites."
The result: "This is a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, in a statement, adding that "readers, and particularly students, are losing access to critical information, and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs."
For some 40 years, Banned Books Week has spotlighted attempts to censor books in libraries and schools, uniting librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers in support of free expression. Every September, Banned Books Weeks features a host of events, including an opportunity to highlight the titles that appear on the ALA’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books.
George M. Johnson, the award-winning Black nonbinary activist and author of The New York Times–bestselling young adult memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue and We Are Not Broken, will serve as honorary chair of Banned Books Week this year. (All Boys Aren’t Blue was the third on the ALA’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021 list.) Among the many events set for the week include a conversation with Johnson, held on September 20 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. ET on the Banned Books Week Facebook page,about censorship and how it impacts readers—and especially young adults—led by Freedom to Read Foundation President and librarian Peter Coyl.
For an updated calendar of events, check the Banned Books website here. Follow Banned Books Week on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram to get the latest updates.