Mar 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

More books were targeted for censorship in 2023

Book titles challenged in public schools and libraries, 2023
Data: American Library Association; Map: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios

The number of books targeted for censorship at U.S. schools and libraries rose 65% in 2023 over 2022, the American Library Association (ALA) said today.

Why it matters: It's the highest level the group has ever reported, coming as pro-censorship groups increasingly target multiple titles at once.

By the numbers: 4,240 different titles were targeted for censorship last year, compared with 2,571 in 2022 — which was then a record.

  • Yes, but: The number of overall censorship demands dropped slightly, to 1,247 in 2023 from 1,269 in 2022.

The big picture: Librarians and educators view the move to stifle reading material for young people as such a grave threat that they're propagating the term "intellectual freedom challenges" as a descriptor.

  • Censorship efforts tend to focus on books with multicultural or LGBTQ themes — 47% of targeted books "represented the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals," per ALA's report.
  • Classics like "Lord of the Flies" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" have also been in the crosshairs.

Between the lines: Opponents of targeted books are going beyond school libraries and putting more pressure on public libraries.

  • The number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries rose by 92%, versus 11% at schools.
  • And demands for "censorship of multiple titles, often dozens or hundreds at a time" drove the overall surge, per ALA.

Caveat: ALA considers its censorship tally "only a snapshot," noting that it doesn't include book challenges that weren't reported directly to the group or covered by the media.

  • Plus, not all book banning attempts are successful.

Context: PEN America, which champions authors' rights, recorded 3,362 book bans in the 2022-2023 school year, up 33% from the prior year.

📚 Reality check: Banned books often get a circulation bump, according to a recent study.

What's next: The ALA will release its new list of the 10 most challenged books on April 8.

  • Last year's list was topped by "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe," All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson and "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison.
Go deeper