Efforts to ban books have persisted in American history, but those efforts are reaching unprecedented heights.
In 2022, the American Library Association (ALA) documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources, resulting in more than 2,571 unique title challenges or removals – the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago, and a 38% increase from the previous year. Ninety percent of the overall number of books challenged were part of attempts to censor multiple titles.
Every year, ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles a list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. Because many book challenges are not reported, this list represents only a snapshot of book challenges. (Note: This year there are 13 titles as some were tied.)
On September 20, 2023, ALA released new preliminary data documenting a continued uptick in attempts to censor books, materials, and services across public, school, and academic libraries in the United States between January 1 - August 31, 2023. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) reported 695 attempts to censor library materials and services and documented challenges to 1,915 unique titles.The number of unique titles challenged has increased by 20 percent from the same reporting period in 2022, the year in which the highest number of book challenges occurred since ALA began compiling this data more than 20 years ago. Most of the challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Challenges to books in public libraries accounted for 48 percent of those OIF documented, compared to 16 percent during the same reporting period in 2022. The largest contributor to the rise in both the number of censorship attempts and the increase in titles challenged continues to be a single challenge by a person or group demanding the removal or restriction of multiple titles. In the past, most challenges to library resources only sought to remove or restrict a single book. Contributing significantly to the skyrocketing number of book challenges is the prevalent use of lists of books compiled by organized censorship groups. Each attempt to ban a book by one of these groups represents a direct attack on every person’s constitutionally protected right to freely choose what books to read and what ideas to explore.
- As in 2022, 9 in 10 of the overall number of books challenged were part of an attempt to censor multiple titles.
- Cases documenting a challenge to 100 or more books were reported in 11 states, compared to six during the same reporting period in 2022 and zero in 2021.
The theme for this year's Banned Books Week is "Let Freedom Read." As the freedom to read and freely explore ideas is threatened by censorship attempts, the ALA and American Association of Publishers (AAP) jointly reaffirmed the Freedom to Read statement, which marked its 70th anniversary in 2023. First published on June 25, 1953, by the ALA Council and the American Association of Publishers (AAP) Freedom to Read Committee, the Freedom to Read Statement begins with this timeless observation:
The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack.
Source for statistics and information: American Library Association, https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/book-ban-data, https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/by-the-numbers