Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times

April 11, 2024

92% Surge in Book Banning Attempts Indicative of Enduring Battle for Basic Rights

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On March 14, 2024 the American Library Association published a report highlighting a dramatic 92% increase in efforts to ban and censor books across the nation in 2023. Censorship attempts have risen consistently in the past years with each year topping the previous for the number of titles challenged. These trends reflect a growing battle pitting libraries and booksellers against those wishing to silence diverse voices. These attempts are rooted in individuals feeling threatened by progressive ideas that challenge the inequality entrenched in society. These attempts are appalling. The insecurity conservative minds feel passes on these troubling beliefs to children because they never see the books that would allow them to form their own opinion, causing the cycle of inequality to continue. 

The ALA report highlights a 65% surge in book titles that were challenged for censorship including over 4,000 different titles in libraries and schools throughout the U.S. in 2023. Those numbers are the highest rates of book banning and censorship efforts the ALA has recorded since it began tracking this data in 2001. However, the reality may be even worse. The ALA only reports on challenges reported to them or that appear in the press, hence these staggering numbers may only be a fragment of the total. 

ALA also found that 47% of the unique titles challenged contained topics on, or the voices of, LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals. These attempts were most pronounced in states such as Texas, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. Book banning has been historically connected to the political climate of a state, with many challenges coming from conservative political groups and even some legislators. Challenges tend to impact the types of literature available to children and can shape educational opportunities and critical thinking practices. Most egregious, however, is the erasure of voices and history in favor of the white, straight, cisgender, male voice. The negative effects of these book banning efforts are opening the doors for further infringements on inclusion. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union note that legislation regarding how race, sex and gender should be discussed in the classroom are advancing through various state legislatures, furthering the movements to silence voices. Both  the ACLU and ALA, and countless other organizations, all stress the need to fight against censorship. Books are at the heart of change; hence, it is of paramount importance to keep all books on the shelves and oppose the groups trying to remove them. 

The director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom said in a statement, “each demand to ban a book is a demand to deny each person’s constitutionally protected right to choose and read books that raise important issues and lift up the voices of those who are often silenced.” Indeed, every attempt to remove a book from the shelves undermines the very purpose of having books to read. Books and reading offer opportunities to see the world through the eyes of others and to understand the world through a new lens. Whether fiction or truth, each reader leaves a world of paper and ink with a better understanding of ourselves and our own flawed world. To read is to live a thousand lives, become a thousand people and develop empathy for all in the process. As stated by ALA President Emily Drabinski, “Every challenge to a library book is an attack on our freedom to read” and thus every challenge to a book represents an attempt to block our ability to learn and empathize with diverse communities. 

The ALA’s report starkly illustrates the growing challenge book banning efforts pose to freedom of speech and expression. These efforts threaten to reverse important progress made over many years of struggle to advance equality, inclusivity and to open the door for diverse voices. One of the most effective ways to protect these important advances is by voting and taking advantage of the unique opportunity in the United States to see what matters most reflected in our government. The ALA report stresses the urgent need for leaders and policy makers to elevate and defend the right to read and explore ideas freely now and in the years to come. We cannot continue to support those who do not hold this at heart.

Election day for the Presidential Elections is on November 5th, 2024. There is a polling site located conveniently on the Cornell campus at Alice Cook House. Prior to election day, either register to vote or check your voter registration status on the National Association of Secretaries of State website. 

Ayla Kruse Lawson is a freshman in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at [email protected].