Parents and political groups lodged complaints against nearly 1,600 books in more than 700 libraries and library systems across the country in 2021, a new record of conservative activism that largely targeted tomes involving race, gender and the LGBTQ community, a new report has found.
The American Library Association (ALA) said in its annual assessment that twice as many “challenges” to books were made over the course of one three-month period — from September to November of last year — than in the entirety of 2020. The 330 challenges in that period compared to 377 made in all of 2019.
“Gender Queer,” a graphic memoir of author Maia Kobabe’s life as a nonbinary queer person, was challenged more often than any other book, according to the group’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Five of the 10 most frequently challenged books are about the LGBTQ community, the association found.
Also among the books most likely to be attacked are novels that contain sexually explicit references or content, including “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”
“We support individual parents’ choices concerning their child’s reading and believe that parents should not have those choices dictated by others,” said Patricia Wong, the ALA’s president. “Young people need to have access to a variety of books from which they can learn about different perspectives. So, despite this organized efforts to ban books, libraries remain ready to do what we always have: make knowledge and ideas available so people are free to choose what to read.”
The new push to ban certain books also came as conservatives focused campaigns against critical race theory, a legal theory taught in some law school and graduate school settings. Conservatives in states like Idaho, Iowa, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida have approved legislation banning teaching of some concepts of race in schools, bans that are so broad that some teachers have warned they risk running afoul of the new laws if they teach about the Holocaust.
In Wyoming, a group of parents filed a criminal complaint against public library officials over sex education books. In Texas, a state lawmaker proposed a list of 849 banned books.
The true number of banned and challenged books is likely much higher than the library association could document. The group said its list relies on media reports and self-reporting by library systems across the country, and that as much as 90 percent of challenges to books go unreported.