A new report from the American Library Association (ALA) follows the state of America’s libraries in 2021. One major takeaway? That there have been more book ban attempts in our nation’s libraries — from schools to your neighborhood library branch — than since the ALA began issuing annual reports in 2000.
ALA President Patty Wong said of the report, “We support individual parents’ choices concerning their child’s reading and believe that parents should not have those choices dictated by others. Young people need to have access to a variety of books from which they can learn about different perspectives,” per NPR.
How Many Book Ban Attempts Took Place?
The report found that in 2021, there were 729 challenges to the books and activities that take place in libraries, for a total of . That might not sound like a lot — there are more than 100,000 libraries across the country, 9,000 of which are public libraries — but it’s actually a huge jump. In 2020 — a pandemic year when many people weren’t going to their local libraries or their school building libraries — there were only 156 book ban attempts or challenges. And in 2019, there were 377.
In 2021, a total of 1,597 individual books were challenged by politicians, school boards, parents, political groups, elected officials, and more.
Book Bans — And Laws Limiting Classroom Topics — Are on the Rise
The book bans come at a time when in statehouses across the country, lawmakers are passing laws that ban discussing or teaching kids about LGBTQ+ history or so-called “Critical Race Theory.” In Florida, a bill critics refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill would ban any discussion of LGBTQ+ identities in classrooms from grades kindergarten through 3rd grade. That could include, experts warn, teachers talking about their own lives, or kids mentioning their parents. And in dozens of states across the country, Critical Race Theory has been banned from classrooms as well.
All these bills, despite their legality, could create a “chilling effect” on classrooms across the country as teachers will be unsure of what books or topics they can and cannot discuss. To date, books such as Maus and The Bluest Eye, both commonly on school curricula, have been banned. Most Americans think book bans are unnecessary.
Who Wanted to Ban Books?
The book ban challenges were mostly initiated by parents or patrons of the library, per a survey of 715 respondents. In total, 39% of people who initiated book ban attempts were parents, 24% were patrons, 18% were board or administration members, 10% were political or religious groups, 6% were librarians or teachers, 2% were elected officials, and 1% were students.
The challenges, unsurprisingly, mostly took place in school libraries (44%). Other common places where book ban attempts took place in 2021 include public libraries (37%), schools themselves (18%), and other academic spaces (1%).
The most common target of book banners are books, graphic novels, and textbooks (82% of ban attempts). A much, much smaller percentage of ban attempts came for programs run in libraries, displays or exhibits, films, or “other” (databases, magazines, social media, student publications, etc.).
Even though the recorded book ban attempts rose to new heights in 2021, the ALA does mention that the report is not exhaustive, and that there are many book ban attempts that don’t reach the media.
Why Did People Want to Ban Books?
The most common reasons for books being challenged in 2021? One common reason books were banned in 2021 was for mentioning LGBTQ+ topics. Common words that people used to complain about books they wanted to ban included, but were not limited to: “woke,” “sexually explicit, “Critical Race Theory,” “profanity,” “Marxist,” “bleak,” “totally evil,” “occult,” “indoctrinating kids,” and “makes white babies feel sad.”
None of this seems that surprising to ALA president, Patty Wong. Of the bans, she said, “Diverse books create a better lens through which all children can see themselves in library collections. And yet these very titles — the ones addressing cultural invisibility and cultivating understanding — are the ones that are most frequently challenged.”
One of the most commonly banned books was The Hate U Give, a popular Young Adult novel about a teenage girl whose friend gets shot by the police. Common Sense Media says the book is appropriate for kids 13 and up.