‘Disputed’ books soared in 2021, study finds

NEW YORK (AP) — Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, has never been busier.

“A year ago we were getting maybe one, maybe two reports a day about a disputed book in a library. And typically those calls would be for advice on how to handle a challenge or for materials that support the value of the challenged work,” Caldwell-Stone told The Associated Press. “Now we get three, four, five reports a day, many need support and some need a lot of support.”

“We are constantly on the phone, she added.

Stories of book bans and attempted book bans, as well as threats against librarians, have skyrocketed over the past year, and the ALA has included some figures in its annual report on the State of American Libraries, released Monday. The association found 729 challenges – affecting nearly 1,600 books – in schools and public libraries in 2021, more than double 2020 figures and the highest since the ALA began compiling challenges more than a year ago. 20 years old.

The actual total for the past year is likely much higher – the ALA collects data through media accounts and through cases it learns from librarians, educators and other community members. Books preemptively removed by librarians – out of fear of community protests or concern for their work – and challenges never reported by libraries are not included.

The number may well rise again in 2022, Caldwell-Stone said, as school boards and Conservative-led legislatures impose more restrictions. Last week, Georgia’s legislature passed a bill that would speed up the process of removing books deemed “harmful to minors.”

“Nothing would surprise me,” says Caldwell-Stone.

The two most contested books on the ALA’s Top 10 list have often made headlines: Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir on gender identity, “Gender Queer,” and Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” a coming-of-age novel told by a young gay man. Both have been singled out by Republican officials.

Last fall in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin supported a local school board banning both books during his successful run for governor. Around the same time, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster supported a school board’s decision to scrap “Gender Queer.”

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis recently criticized “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” when signing a law that would require elementary schools to provide a searchable list of all books available in their libraries or used in school. teaching and empowering parents, DeSantis said, “blow the whistle.”

Kobabe and Evison noted in recent interviews an irony that their books were targeted: neither set out to write a story for young people. But they won a following among students with help from the American Library Association, which awarded each book an Alex Award for works “written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 and up.” at 18 years old”.

“I think a big part of our books that get so much attention is that they’re award-winning and end up being bought by libraries all over the country,” Kobabe said.

Others on the ALA list, virtually all cited for LGBTQ or racial themes, include Angie Thomas’ bestselling “The Hate U Give,” centering on a police shooting of a black teenager; “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson, “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson and “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin. Two older works that previously made the list also appear: Sherman Alexie’s autobiographical novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s debut novel “The Bluest Eye.”

The library association defines a “challenge” as a “formal, written complaint to a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of their content or relevance.” The ALA doesn’t keep a precise figure on how many books have actually been removed, but cases have consistently arisen over the past year. Last December, a school district in San Antonio, Texas, removed hundreds of library books to “ensure they didn’t contain any obscene or vulgar content.”

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