American Library Association Releases Preliminary Data on 2023 Book Challenges
For Immediate Release
Communications and Marketing Office
New data shows record surge of challenges in public libraries
CHICAGO — The American Library Association (ALA) has released new preliminary data documenting the continued rise in attempts to censor books and materials in public, school and academic libraries during the first eight months in 2023.
Between January 1 and August 31, 2023, ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) reported 695 attempts to censor library materials and services and documented challenges to 1,915 unique titles.* The number of unique titles challenged has increased by 20 percent from the same reporting period in 2022, the year in which the highest number of book challenges occurred since ALA began compiling this data more than 20 years ago. Most of the 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 percent of those OIF documented, compared to 16 percent 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 a single challenge by a person or group demanding the removal or restriction of multiple titles.
- As in 2022, 9 in 10 of the overall number of books challenged were part of an attempt to censor multiple titles.
- Cases documenting a challenge to 100 or more books were reported in 11 states, compared to 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.
“These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “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.”
Caldwell-Stone continued, “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. This places politics over the well-being and education of young people and everyone’s right to access and use the public library.”
“What this data set does not reveal are the people who want books that speak to their lived experience and librarians who want to make books accessible to people who find them relevant. Both are under attack,” said ALA President Emily Drabinski.
Examples of publicly documented cases of censorship include:
Samuels Public Library (Front Royal, Va.) — 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 for materials held at the library. Their efforts focused on children 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 (Tenn.) 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) 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.”
“The antidote to the contagion of censorship is public, vocal support for libraries,” said Drabinski. “Libraries continue to welcome every reader in their communities and provide something in the collection for everyone. 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.”
Banned Books Week 2023 (October 1-7) will draw attention to attempts to remove books and other materials from libraries, schools and bookstores. The 2023 Banned Books Week theme, “Let Freedom Read,” is a call to action that underscores the urgent need to defend the right to read and to support the community of readers, library staff, educators, authors, publishers and booksellers.
For more information about ALA and its intellectual freedom efforts, visit www.ala.org.
*ALA compiles data on book challenges from reports filed with its Office for Intellectual Freedom 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 2023 data compiled by ALA represents only a snapshot of book censorship throughout the year. A challenge to a book may be resolved in favor of retaining the book in the collection, or it can result in a book being restricted or withdrawn from the library.
About the American Library Association
The American Library Association (ALA) is the foremost national organization providing resources to inspire library and information professionals to transform their communities through essential programs and services. For more than 140 years, the ALA has been the trusted voice for academic, public, school, government and special libraries, advocating for the profession and the library’s role in enhancing learning and ensuring access to information for all. For more information, visit www.ala.org.