Book Ban Requests in Libraries Hit 'Unprecedented' Level in 2021: Report

Libraries across the United States faced an "unprecedented" number of bids to have books banned in 2021, according to a new report from the American Library Association (ALA).

The organization's Office for Intellectual Freedom monitored 729 challenges to materials and services from libraries, schools and universities during the year. Overall, it resulted in over 1,597 individual instances of books either being challenged or removed. The books that were most targeted in the challenges were ones "by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons," the ALA report said.

The report highlights the ongoing debate across the U.S. on what types of content young learners should have access to. The "unprecedented" number of book ban attempts was accompanied by several concentrated efforts to keep contested texts available to students and library patrons.

One Maine library, for instance, has been purposefully seeking out controversial or challenged titles, while some Texas students have formed book clubs to read the banned books.

Book Banning Report
Libraries across the U.S. faced an "unprecedented" number of bids to have books banned in 2021, according to a new report from the American Library Association. Above, bookshelves of library books stand reflected in the media center of the Newfield Elementary School on August 31, 2020, in Stamford, Connecticut. Jon Moore/Getty Images

The ALA, a nonprofit based in the U.S., said in its report that it was most often parents who initiated challenges against materials or services in one of the institutions. Parents accounted for 39 percent of the challenges, while patrons came in second with 24 percent.

Elected officials and students accounted for the smallest numbers of challenges out of the pool of initiators, making up 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

School libraries received the most challenges, 44 percent, out of the institutions tracked by the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. Public libraries came in second with 37 percent, while schools, in general, came in third with 18 percent.

Some of the reasons cited by those who challenged certain materials or services were that the books dealt with sexually explicit, LGBTQIA+, obscene and "woke" content or topics, according to the report.

The report also included a list of the 10 most challenged books, five of which were challenged or banned from institutions because they covered LGBTQIA+ content. These included Maia Kobabe's Gender Queer: A Memoir, George M. Johnson's All Boys Aren't Blue and Juno Dawson's This Book is Gay.

Several of the top 10, such as Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Ashley Hope Perez's Out of Darkness were challenged or banned because the initiators considered them sexually explicit.

Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give was also widely challenged because some believed that it promotes an "anti-police message" and the "indoctrination of a social agenda."

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, told Newsweek that the disproportionate targeting of titles with certain types of content has been taking place over the last few years.

"A disturbing trend we've noticed for almost five years, if not a little longer, is most book bans are targeting works by marginalized authors, marginalized communities, specifically books about LGBTQIA+ persons or their experiences, or books dealing with the lived experiences of Black persons," she said.

She added that the office is watching "organized campaigns" to target these types of books. The ALA believes that because schools and libraries are public institutions, they should "reflect the lives of everyone who lives in the community and that the library collection should reflect the diversity of those who live in the community," she said.

"We condemn the censorship of books that address the lives of LGBTQIA+ persons and Black persons, persons of color," she added.

In a statement on the efforts to restrict books in U.S. schools in libraries, the ALA's Executive Board said that it is against censorship and "any effort to coerce belief, suppress opinion, or punish those whose expression does not conform to what is deemed to be orthodox in history, politics, or belief."

"The unfettered exchange of ideas is essential to the preservation of a free and democratic society," the statement added. "Libraries manifest the promises of the First Amendment by making available the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas so that every person has the opportunity to freely read and consider information and ideas regardless of their content or the viewpoint of the author."

The report on the pushback against LGBTQIA+ book topics, in particular, comes shortly after Florida's successful passage of legislation commonly known as the "Don't Say Gay" law, which restricts classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Update 04/04/22, 5:40 p.m. ET: This story was updated with comments from Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Update 04/04/22, 3:30 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.

Update 04/04/22, 2:40 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information and background.