Censorship Sucks

Witness the chilling numbers behind 2023’s book ban surge

Book bans, particularly those targeting books by LGBTQ+ or BIPOC authors, have been the subject of ongoing national news over the past couple of years. A new report by the American Library Association (ALA) illustrates just how bad the situation has become, with 2023 reaching the highest number of challenges on record.

The ALA’s newly released data documents book challenges throughout the US in 2023. It is based on reports by library professionals and news stories, and because these cannot account for all book challenges, the ALA stresses that its findings represent a “snapshot” of censorship.

In total, 4,240 unique titles were challenged in schools and libraries, through a total of 1,247 censorship demands. This represents a 65% increase over censorship data from 2022. Numbers for previous years demonstrate a clear escalation, with 2,571 books challenged in 2022 and 1,651 books challenged documented in 2021.

The ALA contextualizes this data through a series of clear trends. Despite the repeated claim that book bans are about protecting children, all-ages public libraries were a primary target for conservatives, receiving a 92% increase in the number of titles challenged. In stark contrast, titles challenged in school libraries increased by 11%.

The book ban surge was driven by “pressure groups” challenging “dozens or hundreds [of titles] at a time.” 47% of those titles represented LGBTQ+ and BIPOC voices. The states receiving the highest number of challenges, as shown in an interactive map, included Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

“Every challenge to a library book is an attack on our freedom to read,” ALA President Emily Drabinski said in a statement. “The books being targeted again focus on LGBTQ+ and people of color. Our communities and our country are stronger because of diversity. Libraries that reflect their communities’ diversity promote learning and empathy that some people want to hide or eliminate.

“Libraries are vital institutions to each and every community in this country, and library professionals, who have dedicated their lives to protecting our right to read, are facing threats to their employment and well-being.”

To combat this surge in censorship, the ALA launched the coalition Unite Against Book Bans, which will celebrate its second anniversary during National Library Week next month.

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