With Banned Books Week approaching, the American Library Association has released new preliminary data showing a continuing surge in attempts to censor books and materials in public, school, and academic libraries during the first eight months of 2023.
In a release, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) reported 695 attempts to censor library materials between January 1 and August 31, 2023, up only slightly from the 681 documented attempts at this point last year, but still on a record-setting pace. Those 695 challenges involve a growing number of books, however, with the number of unique titles challenged jumping 20% over last year: 1,915 unique titles have been targeted so far in 2023 compared to 1,651 last year. And once again, ALA data shows that most of the challenges were to books "written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community."
The rise in unique titles challenged is indicative of the rise in organized political groups creating and sharing lists of objectionable books. In past years, most challenges came from individuals seeking to remove or restrict a single title.
“The largest contributor to the rise in both the number of censorship attempts and the increase in titles challenged continues to be a single challenge by a person or group demanding the removal or restriction of multiple titles,” ALA officials explain. “As in 2022, 9 in 10 of the overall number of books challenged were part of an attempt to censor multiple titles.” And challenges that targeted “100 or more books” were reported in 11 states thus far in 2023, compared to six during the same reporting period in 2022—and zero in 2021.
The data also suggests that the surge in book bans is moving from school to public libraries. Challenges to books in public libraries accounted for nearly half of the challenges documented (49%) thus far in 2023, ALA officials report, compared to 16% during the same reporting period in 2022.
“Expanding beyond their well-organized attempts to sanitize school libraries, groups with a political agenda have turned their crusade to public libraries, the very embodiment of the First Amendment in our society,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, in a statement. “These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights. 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.”
ALA data on book challenges is compiled from reports filed with its Office for Intellectual Freedom by library professionals in the field, as well as from news stories published throughout the United States. The data presents a snapshot of the censorship climate, officials say, noting that man (likely most) book bans are never reported, and, on challenges may be resolved in favor of keeping challenged books.
The preliminary data comes ahead of Banned Books Week 2023, set for October 1-7.
For more than 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. The annual program, which runs every fall, features a host of events, including an opportunity to highlight the titles that appear on the ALA’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books List.
The 2023 Banned Books Week theme is “Let Freedom Read,” which ALA officials say is a call to action.
“The antidote to the contagion of censorship is public, vocal support for libraries,” said ALA president Emily Drabinski, in a statement. “ALA invites everyone who cares about protecting the freedom to read to show up to support their libraries at a local school or library board meeting, participate in Banned Books Week initiatives in October, and join the Unite Against Book Bans campaign to fight censorship.”