Record book ban attempts in 2022, American Library Association reports
Attempts to ban books from public libraries or schools in New York State and nationwide surged last year, according to a report released Thursday by the American Library Association.
There were 32 challenges to remove a total of 80 books in New York State in 2022, up from 22 challenges of 42 titles the previous year, according to the ALA. Data was not available for Long Island.
But last June, the Smithtown Library Board voted to remove Pride Month books from its children's reading room. And in recent years, school districts in Nassau and Suffolk have removed books from campus libraries for containing material they considered divisive or not age-appropriate.
Nearly 1,300 demands to remove books were made across the country in 2022, almost double the 729 challenges reported in 2021, and the most since the ALA began tracking data two decades ago, the report said. In total, nearly 2,600 unique titles were targeted for removal, a 38% spike from 1,858 books challenged in 2021, the report found. It was unclear what percentage of the challenges were successful.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Attempts to ban books from public libraries or schools in New York State and nationwide surged last year.
- There were 32 challenges to remove a total of 80 books in New York State in 2022, up from 22 challenges of 42 titles the previous year.
- Nationwide almost 2,600 unique titles were targeted for removal, a 38% spike from 1,858 books challenged in 2021.
Book banning has jumped to the forefront of issues facing librarians on Long Island and "pretty much everywhere in the country," said Terry Lucas, president of the Public Library Directors Association of Suffolk County.
"It's something we're all very aware of …" said Lucas, who also serves as director of the Shelter Island Public Library. "It's very concerning."
Race, LGBTQ the focus
The bulk of the challenges, an ALA official said, originated with organizations such as Moms for Liberty, who have called for removing multiple titles with LGBTQ themes or those focusing on race or slavery.
“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,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. "The choice of what to read must be left to the reader or, in the case of children, to parents. That choice does not belong to self-appointed book police.”
In a statement, the co-founders of the Florida-based Moms for Liberty defended their efforts and insisted that banning books is not their aim.
“Censorship is the banning of books," said Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice. "That is not what Moms for Liberty does. We say — write the book, print the book, sell the book; but if it does not have age-appropriate material for small schoolchildren, don’t put it in school."
The group's website describes its members as "fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government."
In its report, the ALA said that roughly 60% of the challenges targeted books and materials in schools or classrooms while the rest focused on materials in public libraries. The data was compiled from reports by local libraries, along with media accounts.
Last June, the Smithtown Library Board voted to remove a Pride Month display from its children's reading room that consisted of dozens of books about LGBTQ families, such as "Pink Is for Boys" and "Pride Puppy," and a history of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Facing an investigation by state human rights officials and withering public criticism from librarians, LGBTQ advocates and Gov. Kathy Hochul, the library board voted to restore the display.
David Kilmnick, president of the LGBT Network of Long Island, said groups are singling out these books to perpetuate decades-old stereotypes meant to marginalize the LGBTQ community.
"It's one of the most violent, disgusting things that we're seeing taking place," Kilmnick said. "I'm not being dramatic here. All Long Islanders should be on high alert, with these groups spreading their messages of hate disguised with an age-old trope about LGBTQ people …"
Long Island school districts have also removed books because of material they didn't consider age-appropriate or that contained racial themes some parents found objectionable.
In June 2021, the Commack School District removed “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood,” a highly regarded book about an Iranian girl coming of age during the 1978 Islamic Revolution, after school officials and some parents argued it was pornographic and not age-appropriate. One of its 341 pages depicts the torture of a mostly naked guerrilla by the Shah’s secret police.
Parents in the district had previously complained about critical race theory, an approach to analyzing systemic racism that school leaders have repeatedly said they don't teach.
In October 2021, the Plainedge School District temporarily banned the middle school novel "Front Desk," about a Chinese immigrant's experience in school, after a parent complained that it was "divisive," taught critical race theory and showed police in a negative light. The book was later reinstated.
Caroline Ashby, director of the Nassau Library System, said very few challenges have been made at their libraries during the past year.
"Right-wing activists on Long Island argue that parents have a right to decide which books are made available in school and public libraries," said Alan Singer, a Hofstra University professor of teaching, learning and technology. "The reality is that a small group of parents want to censor what all students are able to read."
Long Island has been at the forefront of efforts to prevent book banning.
In 1975, Steven Pico, an Island Trees High School junior, joined with several students to challenge a decision by the district to remove 11 books, largely by Black authors, that they said were "anti-American, anti-Christian, antisemitic, and just plain filthy." The case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the students' First Amendment rights.
"Politicians are using book banning as part of their game plan to frighten parents and scare voters; to pit one group of Americans against another group of Americans,” Pico said in an interview Thursday. " … Books should not be used as pawns in a political game.”
Bills in favor of restricting books have been proposed or passed in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
The issue is not going away, said Jennifer Fowler, director of the Sayville Library and past president of the Public Library Directors Association of Suffolk County.
"It's definitely becoming more of an occurrence," she said, "that we're hearing challenges of books."
— With AP