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There have been attempts to censor more than 1,900 library book titles so far in 2023

Books sit on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Aug. 18.
Harkim Wright Sr.
Books sit on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Aug. 18.

There were nearly 700 attempts to ban library books in the first eight months of 2023, according to data releasedTuesday by the American Library Association.

From Jan. 1 to Aug 31, the attempts sought to challenge or censor 1,915 titles, a 20% increase compared to the same months in 2022, the organization said. Last year saw the most challenges since the ALA began tracking book censorship more than two decades ago.

But the real numbers may even be higher. The ALA collects data on book bans through library professionals and news reports, and therefore, its numbers may not encompass all attempts to ban or censor certain books.

Most of the titles under scrutiny this year were written by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQ+ community, the group said.

"These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. "To allow a group of people or any individual, no matter how powerful or loud, to become the decision-maker about what books we can read or whether libraries exist, is to place all of our rights and liberties in jeopardy."

In one instance, a local group called Clean Up Samuels hosted barbecues to pass out "Request for Reconsideration" forms at the Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, Va. More than 500 forms were filled out regarding about 150 titles. The county board of supervisors there has since voted to deny 75% of the library's funding and the library director resigned in August, the ALA said.

In July, the Urbandale Community School District in Iowa listed 374 books that it took issue with, but was unsure if many of the books were available in the schools' libraries. The list was trimmed down to 65 books, and titles, including The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Beloved by Toni Morrison and All Boys aren't Blue by George M. Johnson, were removed from the libraries.

"What this data set does not reveal are the people who want books that speak to their lived experience and librarians who want to make books accessible to people who find them relevant. Both are under attack," ALA President Emily Drabinski said.

Book bans, and attempts to ban books, have become more common in recent years, so much so that President Biden created a rolewithin the Department of Education specifically focused on the practice. Illinois also became the first state to ban book bans in June.

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

Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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