Censorship in the U.S. Has a New Look. It’s Highly Organized (Often by Lawmakers) and Both School and Public Libraries Are Being Targeted.

We need to talk about censorship. It is a topic that comes up frequently in the book blogosphere and we have covered it over the years here at Pages Unbound. But, for many years, censorship was seen as an isolated–if dangerous–problem. The typical book challenge might involve, for instance, a single parent at a single school demanding that a book be removed from the school library or the school curriculum. Many of these cases might not even make the news. (The ALA believes 82-97% of book challenges go unreported.) If these cases did receive media coverage, people would often express outrage, but then suggest that students rebel by going to the public library to read the book instead. Times have changed.

Book challenges and book bans are no longer isolated cases. They have risen dramatically in recent years, and they are often organized by groups dedicated to creating lists of books to be removed not only from school libraries, but also from public libraries. Cases are now so common, you can read frequent round-ups of book censorship news on sites like Book Riot and Publishers Weekly, which cover everything from proposed bills to ban books across various state to bills that could criminalize the loaning of certain materials to bills that could pull funding from libraries deemed to be providing access to “inappropriate” books. Readers can no longer rely on just going somewhere else to find and read a book, if the book could be pulled from the entire state, or if librarians fear facing criminal charges for lending books.

Often these books bans come under the guise of “protecting children” and proposed legislation might suggest that the bans are just enforcing reasonable guidelines about what is “appropriate.” The trouble is that these proposed guidelines are often being proposed by individuals with no background in child development or literacy, and they are oftentimes overly vague. And they are usually focused specifically on removing books that focus on racism, LGBTQ+ characters or themes, and social justice issues. It is worth looking into where you live and what sorts of legislation is being proposed. Are books being removed from the library? Moved to different sections? Are the guidelines so vague that everything from nonfiction books about puberty to adult fiction romances could conceivably be considered illegal to have in a public library? And is it really necessary for outside organizations or lawmakers to propose new guidelines for “appropriate” reads over the expertise of educations, librarians, and publishing professionals? Guidelines that could remove access to books from everyone, instead of allowing individuals to make their own informed choices about what to read?

The potential for these organized attempts to remove potentially hundreds of books from both school and public libraries is very real and should not be understated. If you can, consider researching any book challenges or bans happening near you. And then speak up! Write to your lawmakers. Attend a library board meeting. Let your representatives know that you stand against censorship.

13 thoughts on “Censorship in the U.S. Has a New Look. It’s Highly Organized (Often by Lawmakers) and Both School and Public Libraries Are Being Targeted.

  1. femaleinferno says:

    When I read articles like this, I’m so glad I live in Australia. We very rarely get books banned from schools or libraries. In fact we are encouraged to read and discuss controversial books and topics in our English Literature classes. If parents raise concerns there is usually a safer option for the student to read instead.

    I feel like the book banning thing in the USA is more politically motivated, and impinging on constitutional rights of freedom than worrying about exposing youth to rogue elements. Because if that were true then the student simply does not have to read the book in question, and stick to a parental approved reading list. Banning a book only makes it more appealing to youth.

    It’s funny how the books being banned represent minorities or those that challenge a cis white male view of society. Books are about escapism, about walking in someone else’s shoes and broadening your view of the world, its about imagination.

    Book banning and censorship comes from a place of fear and those in power feeling threatened or in risk of losing their control.

    I look at it like television: if I don’t like a show, I switch the channel or turn off the tv. I don’t need to start a radical movement to wipe the show from existence. That sounds exhausting. If they don’t want their child to read a book, give them something else they’ll want to read. It’s not that hard.

    There has been a petition here in Aus to stop drag queens doing storytime: when drag performers read children’s books to a group of kids. It’s been popular here for over 10 years. It’s not just drag queens, its fairies, princesses, all manner of magical creatures. They are all vetted by possessing a working with children card; and it engages the kids in literature and the library. The people up in arms about this activity are trying to sexualise the performers reading to the kids. Labelling them paedophiles. Which is just so wrong. There has not been a case of a storytime reader doing anything untoward to a child in the 10 years the program is running. Parents and teachers are present.

    This whole censorship thing is small minded people making assumptions about something they know little about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      Well…I think that used to be the way schools would work in the U.S.! I have heard of parents asking for alternative assignments for their children, and that seems okay to me. The parent is showing involvement and may have some more insight into whether a book is a good fit for their child or not. But the book remains! Everyone who wants to read it still can!

      But wholesale removals of potentially hundreds of books from the library so NO ONE can read them? That is such an overreach! No single parent should get to decide what every single child in a school has access to. And they can’t even get it elsewhere now because public libraries are facing the same targeting.

      I do agree it seems to be politically motivated. To me, it seems like the U.S. is very divided right now, with various groups attempting to reclaim power over both politics and the historical narrative. To do that, they are going after the books.

      Because, yes, the rational thing to do is simply not read or watch things you don’t enjoy. Every library is going to have books that someone objects to. That doesn’t mean ALL the books should go.

      Drag queen story times get targeted in the U.S., too. But, yes I agree, the answer is simply not to attend if you don’t want to. The libraries always announce what type of program it is, so it’s easy enough to just not show up. If the community as a whole is truly not interested, the library will cancel any program just because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest time and money in programs that have low attendance. Just…do your thing. Let other people do their thing. And let the process work itself out to see what types of programming the community as a whole wants, instead of imposing one person’s ideas on everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    Well, here people don’t even encourage their kids to go to the library but there aren’t many libraries in my city so well this kind of issues I don’t see happening here but I don’t get why the book should be banned. aren’t we supposed to have freedom of speech and so writing and so also reading? As for books not being age-appropriate, they can always be moved to certain sections or just don’t let your kid read it but why to stop someone from getting knowledge, information or entertainment just because it doesn’t align with one’s particular idea. I agree with you, it’s a very narrow-minded approach.


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I don’t understand this at all. I see it as the parent’s responsibility to check in on what their kids are reading. If they think their kid is not ready for a specific title yet, fine! Have a talk with the kid. Look for alternatives. But why make a book inaccessible to everyone just because you don’t like it?

      Libraries are full of books that are almost certainly going to be objectionable to SOMEONE. We can’t get rid of them all! The reasonable thing to do is simply read what you want and ignore the rest. And if a book is truly horrible, trust the public not to read it. Eventually it will fall into obscurity and be weeded from the collection due to no circulation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Janette says:

    It’s a very scary trend and it’s happening in so many areas of life now, not just books. A lot of times, people don’t even to seem to have read the book in question but are just jumping onto a bandwagon.


    • Krysta says:

      Yes! Libraries often have forms for people to fill out when they want a book removed from the collection, and the ones I’ve seen usually ask the person to cite the page number of the objectionable content and explain why it should be removed. I think the idea is to get people reflecting on if they have even read the book in question! It seems these days, organizations are just releasing lists of books and asking people who haven’t even read said books to get them banned! It’s very scary!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. RoXXie SiXX says:

    Honestly, reading about all the book bans and what not, especially what’s going on in Florida, all I can do is shake my head.
    And as a German it reminds me of a very dark time in German history in the 30s and 40s of the last century when books not only got banned but also burned. And whatever the Republicans are doing is pretty much the same. Just with one difference, they are not driven by a superior human ideology, but by really questionable religious motives. In my eyes that is an abuse of the first amendment, because the Republicans dictate what kind of books are suitable for the kids according to their Christian belief. Which also means, in my eyes, Christianity is forced on children of any background. That’s plain wrong!

    Do I agree with all kind of books out there? Hell no. As an Atheist I could demand to ban all kind of religious books because, in my opinion, they are misleading and plain wrong. None of their contents were ever proven, while science does proof multiple facts every single day.
    But you know what, I let religious people keep their books. Instead of banning, I’d rather start a friendly discussion about it, because I honor everyone’s freedom to believe in whom- or whatever they want. And talking about it doesn’t mean I want to convince them to stop believing. I might learn something as well through those discussions.

    If it comes to the cancel culture, I am getting really really annoyed.


  5. Michael J. Miller says:

    I have a thousand different thoughts in my head right now as is the case whenever I read anything about book bans. But what comes first to mind now is what it would have to be like to live in such fear. There is nothing logical – let alone kind, empathetic, or helpful – about banning books. Such censorship is driven by and breeds intolerance but it’s root has to be fear. Right? We often fear what we don’t know and these bans have to be driven, at their root, by those who fear acknowledging their shared humanity with those of different backgrounds, races, and sexual orientations.

    And when your fear is so large that you – and a bunch of people who hold similar fears – move to ban books at all let alone on this scale, how do we begin to diffuse that fear? How do we have conversations when the walls are that high and tightly closed off? It’s unnerving to say the least. But HECK YES for researching and speaking up!

    This all makes me think of a ‘Doctor Who’ quote (of course) that I have framed on the wall of my classroom. It comes from the Fourth Doctor who says, “You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit the view. Which can be uncomfortable, if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.”


    • Krysta says:

      I find these bans especially scary because they are now trying to repeal laws that protect educators and librarians from being prosecuted for handing out materials. It’s gone beyond banning a title here or there. It’s trying to scare teachers and librarians away from the profession. Maybe even having libraries completely shut down because the liability for working in one is too high. No books for anyone because some people didn’t like some titles. You’re right. There must be A LOT of fear there for people to go that far, to be so afraid of new ideas that they can’t stomach the idea of a library even existing.

      I don’t really know what the solution is. To me, it seems clear that this is just another manifestation of the culture wars, with different groups trying to control the historical narrative and how the U.S. sees itself as a country. But there is a lot to unpack there, and I’m not certain it’s easy to convince someone that book bans are harmful when there are surely a lot of other issues tied up into this one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        You’re absolutely right. It also feels (judging from anecdotal experiences, following the news, and seeing the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” (to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi) that is social media) like we’re losing our ability to even process let alone explore nuance. So if we, as a culture, are struggling with nuance than how can we begin to fathom the dangers of book bans (if we don’t already see it) let alone unpack all we need to to address it?

        I remember reading a psychological study in the months before Covid that said a survey of incoming college freshmen in 2018 and 2019 showed the majority of students’ fight or flight responses were triggered when they heard an opinion they didn’t agree with. So we’re now learning to respond to a different point of view the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors did when a predator jumped out of the woods! The implications of this have a) helped explain a lot of what I see in the culture wars around us, as well as in my in-class debates, and b) haunted me to this day. I can’t shake that idea.

        So yeah, how do we begin to find a solution when we seem to literally be losing the ability to hear let alone process a different point of view? It’s scary for sure.


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