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Library studies find “challenged” books surge in 2021

NEW YORK — Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office of Freedom of Thought, has never been so busy.

“A year ago we received maybe one, maybe two reports a day about a book being contested in a library. And typically those calls are for guidance on how to deal with a challenge, or for materials that support the value of the work being challenged,” 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 talk on the phone all the time,” she added.

reports of book bans and attempted book bans, along with threats against librarians, have skyrocketed over the last year and the ALA included some numbers in its annual State of America’s Libraries Report, released Monday. The association found 729 challenges in public schools and libraries in 2021, affecting nearly 1,600 books, more than double the number in 2020 and the highest since the ALA began compiling challenges more than 20 years ago.

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The actual total for the last year is likely much higher — the ALA collects data through media accounts and through cases it learns about from librarians, educators, and other community members. Books that were preemptively pulled out by librarians — out of fear of community protests or concerns for their jobs — and challenges never reported by libraries are not included.

The number could well rise again in 2022, Caldwell-Stone said conservative-led school boards and legislatures enacted more restrictions. Last week, the Georgia legislature passed legislation that would expedite the process of removing books deemed “harmful to minors.”

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

The two most challenged books on the ALA’s top 10 list has often been in the news: Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir on sexual identity Gender Queer; and Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy, a coming-of-age novel narrated by a young gay man. Both were singled out by Republican officials.

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Last fall in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin supported a local school board’s banning of the two books during his successful run for governor. Around the same time, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster supported a school board Decision to remove Gender Queer.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently criticized “gender queer” and “lawn boy” when signing a law That would force elementary schools to provide a searchable list of every book available in their libraries or used in the classroom and allow parents to “blow the whistle,” DeSantis said.

In recent interviews, Kobabe and Evison found their books ironically targeted: neither wanted to write a story for young people. But they gained a following among college students with help from the American Library Association, which gave each book an Alex Award for works “written for adults and particularly appealing to young adults ages 12 to 18.”

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

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

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The Library Association defines a “challenge” as a “formal, written complaint to a library or school requesting that materials be removed on the basis of content or appropriateness.” The ALA doesn’t keep exact figures on how many books were actually removed, but cases have routinely surfaced over the past year. Last December, a school district in San Antonio, Texas, pulled out hundreds of library books to “ensure they did not contain obscene or vulgar material.”

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https://www.ksat.com/news/politics/2022/04/04/library-study-finds-challenged-books-soared-in-2021/ Library studies find “challenged” books surge in 2021

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