Nearly 1,600 books faced challenges in 2021, according to the American Library Association, the highest number it’s seen since it started tracking it 20 years ago.
ROCK ISLAND, Ill. – Attempts to ban books from schools and libraries across the country surged in 2021 to the highest number since the American Library Association began recording book challenges 20 years ago, the organization said earlier this month.
Last year, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials, as well as research databases and e-book platforms. Each challenge can contain multiple titles, so the association reports that 1,597 different books were challenged. Most of the targeted books were by or about Black and LGBTQ people.
In 2020, the ALA only tracked 156 challenges and a total of 273 books were targeted.
The top 10 most challenged books in 2021 were:
- Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
- Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
- All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
- Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
- Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
The Rock Island Public Library follows the association’s Freedom to Read statement, director Angela Campbell said.
“Anyone has the right to come in and request an item if we do not have it, or check out an item,” Campbell said. “We want to make sure that the information we provide is all sides of an issue, because there are people who believe in one thing versus another … It’s not our job to judge why somebody wants to read, view or listen to something. And we take that very seriously. “
Developing its collection of books is also something the library takes seriously, she added.
“There’s so much that goes into collection development that most people do not realize and we pride ourselves on that,” Campbell said. “So when somebody wants to challenge what we would buy, and want to offer to our community, it challenges what we do and what we believe in as a person and for our profession. “
The Rock Island Library has not seen any challenges lately, but Campbell said it’s concerning to see that the number of challenges is increasing.
ROWVA parents were upset earlier this school year to learn that freshmen were reading The Hate U Give in English class. Now, the school board is no longer allowing it to be taught.
Also earlier this year, Iowa lawmakers discussed passing a bill that would jail teachers who allowed “obscene material” in the classroom.
“It is concerning particularly when they’re trying to make it a criminal offense, when in actuality all we’re trying to do is help the community,” she said. “When they try to restrict other people from viewing it or reading it , that’s not what it is to be an American. So yeah, it’s really disheartening. “
Reading is a form of escapism and a way to learn, she said.
Instead of trying to remove books from schools and libraries, Campbell recommends parents talk to their kids about the topics in the books.
“I truly believe in the art of communication and talking about it rather than getting mad or just eliminating it,” Campbell said. “It needs to be acknowledged that it exists, like it or not.”
The Rock Island Library celebrates Banned Book Week every September. Community members are invited to learn about and discuss books that have been banned at one point.