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Rising book censorship is also targeting public libraries, American Library Association says

The most challenged books of 2022. (Courtesy of the American Library Association)
The most challenged books of 2022. (Courtesy of the American Library Association)

It’s Banned Books Week.

More than 2,500 books were challenged last year, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which tracks book-banning attempts. That’s up almost 40% over the previous year, and it shows no signs of abating in 2023.

Most of these books deal with race, sex education, or gender identity, such as “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. And some of them are literary classics, such as Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”

Conservative parent rights groups such as Moms for Liberty, who claim they are fighting so-called “woke indoctrination” in schools, have been pushing for the removal of books from school libraries. They are now turning their attention to public libraries.

“When these groups first went to school boards to demand the censorship of books, they said, ‘Well, after all, the reader who wants to read them can just go down the street to the public library,’” says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Book challenges in public libraries hovered around 19% for years, Caldwell-Stone says, but now they’ve jumped to 49%.

Caldwell-Stone says those conservative groups and individuals also try to get public libraries defunded and shut down rather than tolerate books that deal with gender identity, sex education, or race and racism, on the shelf of the library.

That’s the case in Jameston, Michigan, where the community has voted to remove the library’s funding. While it has kept its doors open thanks to fundraising, the library is running out of money and is unlikely to stay open in the long run.

“Already twice they’ve said they’d rather close the library than tolerate books they don’t agree with on the shelf,” Caldwell-Stone says.


Adeline Sire produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Julia Corcoran. Sire also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.