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ALA’s alarming report reveals surge in attempts to censor books

By Jessica Silverio, Oct. 10, 2023

The American Library Association unveiled data underscoring attempts to censor books and materials across public, school and academic libraries during the first eight months of 2023.

The report, released by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, painted a trend in increased censorship efforts between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, in which the OIF documented 695 attempts to censor library materials and services.

There is a challenge to 1,915 unique titles, representing a 20% increase from the same period in 2022 — a year that already held the record for the highest number of book challenges in over two decades of ALA data collection.

A significant portion of these challenges targeted books by or about individuals from marginalized communities, particularly people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, warns of the implications.

“These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights,” said Caldwell-Stone.

She emphasizes allowing any group or individual, no matter how influential, to dictate what books are accessible poses a threat to fundamental rights and freedoms.

These challenges are not just about what books are available, but also about the people who seek books reflecting their own experiences and librarians who strive to make relevant literature accessible.

Banned Books Week is just one example of the many initiatives undertaken to raise awareness about censorship and to promote intellectual freedom. It’s a demonstration of how librarians and educators are engaging with their communities to ensure the voices of marginalized authors and perspectives are not silenced.

CPP University Library | Image Courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona

Damian Sanchez, a history student, expressed his concerns over the increasing trend of censorship in libraries.

“I really depend on the library to get my hands on all sorts of stuff, like historical books and research, especially the ones that dive deep into historical events,” said Sanchez. “But when you try to censor books in general, it’s not just my academic journey that takes a hit, it’s a whole bunch of other students too.”

The surge in censorship attempts within American libraries is a reminder of the ongoing struggle to protect intellectual freedom and access to diverse ideas. To address this critical issue, it is imperative educators, librarians, students and community members come together to safeguard the integrity of libraries and uphold the principles of democracy and free expression.

Abigail Lewis, a liberal studies student, also made her voice heard over the surge of banned books occurring.

“I’m someone who tends to read a lot, whether it’s for class or for my own enjoyment,” said Lewis. “I’m completely against the idea of banning or censoring books in libraries. Literature is meant to challenge us, provoke thought and provide diverse perspectives on the world.”

The rise in books challenges, particularly those shedding light on the experiences of marginalized communities, is a reflection of the broader societal debates surrounding identity, representation and inclusion. The suppression of such materials not only hinders individual growth but also stifles collective progress.

Hannah Cole, an assistant librarian at the CPP library, provided some insight on whether this could affect Instant Access.

“It’s yes and no,” said Cole. “It depends on whether a professor wants to recommend a particular book for the class they’re teaching on the syllabus or not.”

Cole didn’t express too much concern about this affecting Instant Access, but she acknowledged the increasing trend of censorship in libraries is a matter of concern, which is why the CPP library will be holding Banned Books Week.

“Banned Books Week is an event we’ll be holding at the library where we will be setting up a display table with a selection of banned and challenged books to spread awareness,” said Cole. “Students will be able to ask the librarians any questions or information about them.”

The Banned Books Week display will be up at the library from Oct. 1 to 6 and librarians will be available for questions Thursday Oct. 5 from 12 to 1 p.m. on the second floor of the library near the circulation desk.

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