Book banning has existed throughout history, but in the past year, librarians and educators across the nation were met with an unprecedented assault on books in schools. Organizations that frequently describe themselves as defending parental rights debate over what books are appropriate for school libraries. Some are new, some are longstanding. Some are local, others national. Regardless, over the past two years, they have become vastly more organized, well-funded, and effective, as well as criticized.
Despite the NY Post reporting most Americans oppose book bans, there is still a wave of censorship present in the United States. “A new survey of 2,000 Americans reveals 73% are opposed to banning books — and 43% have sought out challenged or banned books to read this year.”
Book Banning Defined
Book banning is defined by MTSU Edu, “Book banning, a form of censorship, occurs when private individuals, government officials, or organizations remove books from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because they object to their content, ideas, or themes.”
It is the practice of preventing individuals from reading certain books by removing them from libraries, school curriculums, and bookstores. This practice is mainly used to restrict access to material that is deemed inappropriate or offensive. It is often used to control what can and cannot be discussed in public.
History Of Book Banning
History easily reminds us that we have been here before, in the 19th and 20th centuries, book banning was used to push a variety of social and political agendas.
Today, Book banning is used to limit access to certain ideas and topics and has been seen as an act of censorship. “The American Library Association (ALA) has tracked book challenges, which are attempts to remove or restrict materials, since 1990. In 2020, the ALA recorded 156 reported book challenges in the United States, a significant decrease from the 377 reported challenges in 2019 perhaps due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, challenges jumped to an all-time high in 2021 with 729 challenges, containing a total of 1,597 books.”
Historically and presently the books banned are by LGBTQ authors and authors of color who write about life beyond white, straight, middle-class America.
Reasons for the Increase in Book Banning
There are three reasons for requesting a book be removed sexually explicit content, offensive language, and “unsuited to any age group”. The percentage of Americans who thought any books should be banned increased from 18% in 2011 to 28% in 2015, and 60% of people surveyed believed that children should not have access to books containing explicit language in school libraries, according to The Harris Poll.
A 2022 poll found 71% disagreed with efforts to have books removed, including 75% of Democrats, 58% of independents, and 70% of Republicans.
The increase is largely due to a national effort by conservative groups and Republican lawmakers. They’ve objected to books about LGBTQ characters as well as books dealing with race and racism, according to the report from PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization.
Book Banning by State
Total states with bans as of September 2022: 32
- Texas: 801 bans, 22 districts
- Florida: 566 bans, 21 districts
- Pennsylvania: 457 bans, 11 districts
- Tennessee: 348 bans, 6 districts
- Oklahoma: 43 bans, 3 districts
- Michigan: 41 bans, 4 districts
- Kansas: 30 bans, 2 districts
- Wisconsin: 29 bans, 6 districts
- Missouri: 27 bans, 8 districts
- Idaho: 26 bans, 3 districts
- Georgia: 23 bans, 2 districts
- Mississippi: 22 bans, 1 district
- Virginia: 19 bans, 9 districts
- Indiana: 18 bans, 3 districts
- North Carolina: 16 bans, 9 districts
- New York: 13 bans, 4 districts
- Utah: 12 bans, 3 districts
The Politicization of Book Banning
In recent years, book bans have been used as a political tool to suppress ideas and information that the political establishment finds objectionable. In particular, books that discuss difficult topics such as race, gender, and sexuality are frequently the target of censorship efforts. These bans are often motivated by an attempt to control the narrative and shape public opinion. Ultimately, the issue of book bans is a complex one that is often driven by political and social agendas. Censorship is an infringement of free speech and books should never be banned or challenged simply because they contain controversial or uncomfortable ideas.
It is important that censorship be treated as a process through which parents can determine which books their children should be exposed to, rather than a tool to eliminate the open exchange of ideas. Open debate within communities addressing censorship can help by exposing cases motivated by bigotry and ignorance.
Three poignant statements were made discussing book banning in the NY Times…
“Book-banning attempts have grown in the U.S. over the past few years from relatively isolated battles to a broader effort aimed at works about sexual and racial identity,” Claire Moss.
“Elected officials are also turning book banning into another wedge issue in the culture wars. Last fall, a Republican representative in Texas put together a list of 850 books that he argued were inappropriate material in schools and included books about sexuality, racism, and American history. In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned on the issue by arguing that parents, not schools, should control what their children read. Democrats have also seized on the issue through congressional hearings about rising book bans,” Alexandra Alter.
“In Virginia Beach, a local politician sued Barnes & Noble over two books, “Gender Queer,” a memoir by Maia Kobabe, and “A Court of Mist and Fury,” a fantasy novel. This lawmaker wants Barnes & Noble to stop selling these titles to minors. The suit probably won’t succeed. But it’s an escalation: The issue went from people thinking their children shouldn’t read certain books to trying to stop other people’s children from reading certain books,” Elizabeth Harris.
Book banning is an outdated and ineffective way to attempt to control what people read and think. It does not allow for an open exchange of ideas, free thought, or choice. Ironically, it serves to draw attention to books that otherwise would not have been noticed. In the end, book banning fails to accomplish its intended purpose, and instead only serves to limit freedom of expression and create a culture of censorship.