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Library book 'challenges,' surging amid conservative activism, ALA says

Library book 'challenges,' surging amid conservative activism, ALA says
The American Library Association said 1,597 books were targeted for removal from library bookshelves in 729 challenges in 2021. File photo by Valkr/Shutterstock

April 4 (UPI) -- Book challenges in the last year topped 700 -- the most since 2000 -- amid conservative activism, The American Library Association said on Monday, which kicks of National Library Week.

"Librarians have always been on the front lines in the fight to protect the freedom to read," a special report released Monday from the ALA stated. "But in 2021, libraries found themselves at the center of attacks orchestrated by conservative parent groups and right-wing media that targeted books about race, gender, and LGBTQIA+ issues for removal from public and school library shelves and, in some cases, included threats of book burning."

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There were 729 book challenges to 1,597 books in 2021, including over 330 challenges in three months alone, which was more than double the entirety of 156 book challenges in 2020.

"The 729 challenges tracked by ALA represent the highest number of attempted book bans since we began compiling these lists 20 years ago," said ALA President Patricia "Patty" Wong in a statement. "We support individual parents' choices concerning their child's reading and believe that parents should not have those choices dictated by others.

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"Young people need to have access to a variety of books from which they can learn about different perspectives. So, despite this organized effort to ban books, libraries remain ready to do what we always have: make knowledge and ideas available so people are free to choose what to read."

In Gillette, Wyo., the local sheriff's office received criminal complaints from residents, alleging obscene material was being distributed to minors at the Campbell County Public Library.

Among the books challenged, was one about being gay, This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, which was also listed in the report as one of the "Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021."

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Other books challenged included sex education books, How Do you Make a Baby? by Anne Fiske, Doing It by Hannah Witton, Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy by Andrew P. Smiler, and Sex is a Funny Word by Corey Silverberg.

The Weston County Attorney's Office decided not to pursue charges against the Campbell County Public Library after reviewing these books and the relevant case law.

In Texas, State Rep. Matt Krause sponsored Texas House bill 3979 banning public schools from teaching lessons that might make students feel "discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual's race or sex," which Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott signed into law last year.

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More recently, Senate Bill 3, replaced HB 3979. Conservatives have called both laws, which each include similar text about avoiding any "discomfort," anti-critical race theory laws, though the term is not included in either law.

Krause also wrote to a number of Texas school districts, demanding to know if they shelved any of around 850 books he argued should be banned under the state's law against students potentially feeling any "discomfort."

The list focused on books that address the experiences of Black and LGBTQIA+ people and prompted a number of school and public libraries to remove them, the ALA noted.

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Librarian Angie Manfredi said in the ALA report that the supporters of book bans don't want children to learn about the experiences of African Americans and LGBTQIA+ people.

Carolyn Foote, a retired school librarian in Austin, Texas, and three other library professionals pushed back against the book bans in a grassroots social media movement, #FReadom, against censorship, which included tweeting about the positive impact books on Krause's list had on students.

"It was so clearly targeting LGBTQ students, it was so clearly targeting race," Foote told CNN regarding the books that Krause listed should be banned. "I just don't want students to feel like they are less than. That's what brought me to this."

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Other books challenges related to LGBTQIA+ content, which were among the "Top 10 most Challenged Books of 2021," included Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson, and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin.

Books that address racism, such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, along with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, which book ban supporters said was sexually explicit, were also among the Top 10 challenged.

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