The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has released preliminary data documenting a continued uptick in attempts to censor books, materials, and services across public, school, and academic libraries in the United States during the first eight months of 2023. Read the full announcement.
ALA compiles data on book challenges from reports filed by library professionals in the field and from news stories published throughout the United States. Because many book challenges are not reported to the ALA or covered by the press, the data compiled by ALA represents a snapshot of book censorship. Read more about our methodology.
2023 Preliminary Data Shows Record Surge of Challenges in Public Libraries
Between January 1 and August 31, 2023, OIF reported 695 attempts to censor library materials and services and documented challenges to 1,915 unique titles - a 20% increase from the same reporting period in 2022, which saw the highest number of book challenges since ALA began compiling the data more than 20 years ago. The vast majority of challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Challenges to books in public libraries accounted for 49% of those OIF documented, compared to 16% during the same reporting period in 2022.
The largest contributor to the rise in both the number of censorship attempts and the increase in titles challenged continues to be simultaneous challenges to multiple titles. Of the overall number of books challenged, 92% were part of attempts to censor multiple titles, compared to 90 percent in the first eight months of 2022. Cases involving 100 or more books were reported in 11 states, compared with six during the same reporting period in 2022 and zero in 2021. In the past, most challenges to library resources only sought to remove or restrict a single book.
From the Field
Local public and school libraries across the nation are being assailed by censorship attempts. Here are a few examples of publicly documented cases:
Front Royal, Virginia: Samuels Public Library
A local pressure group called “Clean Up Samuels” held two book-banning BBQ events ("there will be beer and babysitting") to fill out request for reconsideration forms of materials held at the library. Their efforts focused on children's and young adult materials with representation of the lived experiences of those who are LGBTQIA+. Over 500 forms were completed for nearly 150 unique titles. At county board of supervisor meetings, group members called for the elimination of the library's funding over the availability of And Tango Makes Three, Pride Colors, Prince and Knight, I Love You Because I Love You, Plenty of Hugs, and other LGBTQIA+ titles. In June, the county board of supervisors voted to withhold 75 percent of the budget until the library takes action "to protect our children from sexually explicit material and ensure parents have control over their children's reading choices." The library director resigned in August.
Clinton, Tennessee: Clinton Public Library
In February 2023, the library board voted against a proposal to create a special section of their library to house books related to gender identity and sexual orientation. The conversation was spurred by challenges to Grandad’s Camper, It Feels Good to be Yourself, and Families like Mine from members of a group that advocates for the censorship of library material with LGBTQIA+ representation. While the books were retained where they were originally shelved, members of the group went on to challenge numerous additional titles with LGBTQIA+ representation, including literary memoirs and sex education titles. The group has recently begun calling for the library director’s resignation and threatening community members who have publicly defended access to these resources. In August, the mayor of Anderson County and four county commissioners asked the sheriff to investigate whether 17 books available at public libraries, including Clinton Public Library, violate Tennessee’s criminal obscenity laws. Prosecutors have not brought charges.
Urbandale, Iowa: Urbandale Community School District
In July 2023, the Des Moines Register obtained a list of 374 books that the district had flagged for removal without knowing if the district even owned the books. The justification for the list was to comply with a state law (SF 496) that went into effect in July and set to begin imposing penalties in January 2024. The law is focused on defining what books are deemed age-appropriate in Iowa schools with a focus on topics addressing sex, sex education, sexual orientation and gender identity. A school district spokesperson stated the district was “to provide guidance to K-12 teachers about books that might violate the state law.” In response to protests, the list was revised to 65 books. Among the books removed from school libraries were The Kite Runner, The Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World, Beloved, The Color Purple, Native Son, Gender Queer, All Boys Aren't Blue, and The Hate U Give.
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ALA reports record number of demands to censor library books and materials in 2022.
The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has released new data documenting book challenges throughout the United States, finding that challenges were nearly double that of 2021, reaching the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. Read the full announcement.
OIF documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021.
A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase over the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021. 58% of the reported book challenges targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries.
The prevalent use of lists of books compiled by organized censorship groups contributed significantly to the skyrocketing number of challenges and the frequency with which each title was challenged. Of the overall number of books challenged, 90% were part of attempts to censor multiple titles.
- 12% were in cases involving 2 - 9 books
- 38% were in cases involving 10 - 99 books
- 40% were in cases involving 100 or more books
Prior to 2021, the vast majority of challenges to library resources only sought to remove or restrict access to a single book.
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Unite Against Book Bans is ALA's national initiative to empower readers everywhere to stand together in the fight against censorship with an array of resources, tools, and actions.
Reporting censorship and challenges to materials, resources, and services is vital to defending library resources and to protect against challenges before they happen.
Lists of frequently challenged books compiled by ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom to inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools.
A clearinghouse of resources to assist library workers and advocates in responding to and supporting others facing those challenges.
Documents designated by the Intellectual Freedom Committee as Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights and background statements detailing the philosophy and history of each.
ALA compiles data on book challenges from reports filed by library professionals in the field and from news stories published throughout the United States. Because many book challenges are not reported to ALA or covered by the press, the data compiled by ALA represents a snapshot of book censorship.
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict access to materials or services based upon the objections of a person or group. A challenge to a title may result in access to it being retained, restricted, or withdrawn entirely. Restrictions on access may include relocating the book to a section of the library intended for an older age group than the book is intended for, labeling it with a prejudicial content warning or rating, taking it out of the online catalog so it has to be requested from a staff member, removing it from open and freely browsable stacks, or requiring parental permission to check it out.
Challenges do not simply involve people expressing their point of view, but rather are an attempt to remove materials from curricula or libraries, thereby curtailing the ability of others to access information, views, ideas, expressions, and stories. A formal challenge leads to the reconsideration of the decision to purchase the material or offer the service. This process is governed by a board-approved policy and includes review of the material as a whole to assess if it is aligned with the library or school's mission and meets the criteria delineated in its selection, display, or programming policy (as applicable).
A book is banned when it is entirely removed from a collection in response to a formal or informal challenge.
Any reduction in access to library materials based on an individual or group's belief that they are harmful or offensive is an act of censorship. ALA does not consider weeding of an item based on criteria defined in a library or school district's policy to be a ban, nor do we characterize a temporary reduction in access resulting from the need to review materials to be a ban.