Requests to ban books at US public schools and libraries surged to a 21-year record in 2022, according to data from the American Library Association.
Last year, the ALA recorded 1,050 requests to censor library books in 2022, a 70% increase over the 619 requests in 2021.
As attempts to ban books have ramped up, so have the number of books targeted in each challenge — a new trend, according to ALA data.
From 2001 through 2015, there was at most one challenge with multiple book titles each year. From 2016 through 2020, there were fewer than 20 multi-title challenges a year. In 2022, there were 331 multi-title challenges, a sharp increase from the 192 in 2021.
About 90% of all book titles challenged in 2022 were part of a multi-title ban request — a high in the ALA’s monitoring data.
“We are seeing less and less of what used to happen, which was an individual parent would see their student reading a book and look at it and have questions about it and take it to a teacher or librarian to have a discussion,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told CNN. “What we are seeing now is organized political advocacy groups go to school boards with an agenda with a long list of books they want banned because those books don’t fit their political, moral or religious agenda.”
For years, the average ban request targeted just one book. After the pandemic, the number of books in each challenge rose to an average of six per request in 2021 and seven in 2022, according to ALA data.
“I think a lot of those [issues] have really heated up again because of the pandemic with students being schooled from home and parents needing to take more of an active role and being able to see more of the curriculum through the online delivery and taking an interest that way,” Jason Griffith, an assistant professor of education at Penn State University, told CNN.
There has also been a surge in the number of school districts and public libraries facing requests to ban books during the past two years, rising to 501 in 2021 and 772 in 2022.
In 2022, there were attempts to censor books at schools and libraries in every state except Nevada and Delaware. Texas saw the highest number of both attempts to restrict books and the number of titles challenged in each attempt. In Texas, there were 93 requests to ban a total of 2,349 books — an average of 25 titles in each challenge.
While there were fewer attempts to restrict books in Florida than in Texas — and overall fewer books were challenged — Florida edged out Texas with the highest average number of titles challenged in each attempt. Floridians requested to ban 991 titles across 35 requests, for an average of 28 books included in each book ban attempt, the highest of any state in 2022.
There were 13 book titles challenged the most in 2022, according to the ALA. More than half of those were challenged in part because of LGBTQ+ themes. Complaints have flagged all 13 as “sexually explicit.”
Books with LGBTQ+ themes have been among the most-challenged titles since 2016, according to ALA archives.
Two of these top 13 books — Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison — were some of the first to draw complaints from parents at North Hunterdon High School in New Jersey in the fall of 2021, librarian Martha Hickson told CNN. Both titles were the top two challenged books in 2021.
“They labeled both books as pornographic and obscene,” Hickson told CNN. “It quickly became clear that the pattern that existed was that they (parents) did not like books that had LGBTQ+ themes.”
Parents requested to ban those two books at the New Jersey high school, along with three others — Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson and This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson. The North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional High School District Board of Education ultimately decided to maintain access to all five books.
Lists of books like these have been circulated to parents by groups such as Moms for Liberty, which has flagged several of the books on the top 13 list to its members. On its website, the group responds to accusations of book banning by saying it wants a clear process for reviewing books, identifying objectionable content and restricting access.
“Moms for Liberty does not ‘ban’ books. Write the book, print the book, sell the book. School is for age-appropriate material meant to educate children,” said Moms for Liberty co-founder, Tiffany Justice, in a statement to CNN. “How do pornographic cartoons and graphic descriptions of violence or sex act how-to-articles educate our public school students to read and write? How do they help improve the reading and math scores that have sunken to record lows over the last two years? They don’t. Sexualizing children in school — when they cannot even get into ‘Rated R’ movies or even access the same content through the internet search filters on the school library has nothing to do with education.”
Several of the top 13 challenged books are also written by people of color. The absence of books that show representation of people of color, those in the LGBTQ+ community and other underrepresented groups could have harmful effects on students, Griffith told CNN.
“Anyone that identifies or aligns with any of those issues, to cut books that feature characters and topics completely out of the curriculum and say they can’t be read, I think it sends a really negative message about those students being welcome in that school and broader community,” Griffith said.