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A child looks at books in a school library

A student browses through books in the Presidio Middle School library in San Francisco on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. Salesforce provided funds to refurbish and upgrade the schoolyard and library. (Photo: Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Library Group Launches Anti-Censorship Campaign to Combat GOP Book-Banning Wave

"There were more censorship attempts in 2021 than at any time since the American Library Association began tracking more than two decades ago," the organization said.

Andrea Germanos

The American Library Association on Monday marked the start of National Library Week with a new report documenting a record-high number of attempts to ban books and a new campaign "to empower readers everywhere to stand together in the fight against censorship."

Reading—especially books that extend beyond our own experiences—expands our worldview. Censorship, on the other hand, divides us and creates barriers.

American Library Association (ALA) president Patricia "Patty" Wong said that the 729 challenges in 2021 tracked by her group "represent the highest number of attempted book bans since we began compiling these lists 20 years ago."

Those challenges resulted in 1,597 books being affected by censorship attempts, ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom found.

In the three-month period from September 1 through November 30, 2021 alone, the group tracked more than 330 unique cases, roughly doubling the 156 challenges tracked in all of 2020.

Such efforts occurred despite recent polling showing strong bipartisan opposition to book bans.

Most of the challenged books are about Black or LGBTQIA+ persons, the library group said. That includes the most challenged book of 2021—Maia Kobabe's graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir.

The award-winning book was "banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images," according to the State of America's Libraries Report 2022.

In an editor's note to the publication, ALA's Communications and Marketing Office director Stephanie Hlywak framed libraries as especially critical institutions in the context of a national book banning wave.

In 2021, libraries found themselves at the center of a culture war as conservative groups led a historic effort to ban and challenge materials that address racism, gender, politics, and sexual identity. These groups sought to pull books from school and public library shelves that share the stories of people who are gay, trans, Black, Indigenous, people of color, immigrants, and refugees. But we know that banning books won't make these realities and lived experiences disappear, nor will it erase our nation's struggles to realize true equity, diversity, and inclusion.

That's why the work of libraries is more essential than ever. Books reach across boundaries and build connections between readers. Reading—especially books that extend beyond our own experiences—expands our worldview. Censorship, on the other hand, divides us and creates barriers.

To help respond to the unprecedented attempt at censorship, the ALA also kicked off a new initiative called Unite Against Book Bans.

A new website created for the campaign declares: "Libraries provide access to books that offer teachable moments for both parents and students. They also expand our understanding of people with different backgrounds, ideas, and beliefs. Although book bans are nothing new, there were more censorship attempts in 2021 than at any time since the American Library Association began tracking more than two decades ago."

The resource features video testimonies from book ban foes like Omaha Public Library worker Elie, who says that "reading books that challenge you" and "introduce new concepts and events" have the power to "make you a better community member"—opportunities lost when books are banned.

The campaign is encouraging all book ban opponents to share their story by recording and uploading their own video testimonials.

In a tweet Monday, author Ashley Hope Pérez—whose historical young adult novel Out of Darkness was the fourth most-challenged book of 2021—stressed the importance of supporting "teens' right to read."

"Fan the flames of literacy," she wrote, "don't ban books."

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