Sep 6, 2023 - Education

Texas leads the nation in book ban attempts, per report

Illustration of a stack of books with barbed wire wrapped around them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Texas saw the most attempts to restrict or ban books of any state in the country in 2022, according to a new report from the American Library Association.

Driving the news: There were 93 attempts to restrict access to 2,349 book titles in Texas last year.

  • That's nearly double the total in the second-highest state, Pennsylvania, which had 56 attempts on 302 titles.

Why it matters: Before 2020, most challenges to library books were brought by a single parent regarding a certain book, the association reports. But in 2022 it estimates 90% of book challenges were to multiple titles.

The big picture: This is evidence, the association said, of a "growing, well-organized conservative" movement that is broadly distributing lists to supporters to file mass challenges.

By the numbers: Of the 1,269 attempts nationwide to ban 2,571 books in 2022, 40% sought to remove or restrict more than 100 books at once, the association found.

  • Total attempts in 2022 was nearly double the figure in 2021.

How it works: Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said the group tracks both attempts to ban books and attempts to relocate books to less accessible places.

  • While staff verifies the facts, they rely on voluntary reporting by library staff, the public and media reports, which means it's "especially challenging to determine outcomes" of attempts to remove books.
  • They've been tracking censorship for three decades, she said.

What they're saying: In a statement Texas Library Association executive director Shirley Robinson told Axios that censorship is not new, but the challenges in the past two years are "unprecedented."

  • "Parents have the right to control what their children read, but they do not have the right to decide what every child can read. While no book is right for everyone, one book can be the perfect book for someone," she said.

State of play: Battles over books in Texas have taken place largely in school and public libraries in suburban and rural areas, including the Leander and Eanes school districts and in Llano.

The other side: "It's not that we're banning books, it's that we're just trying to get the sexually explicit content out of public education," Coltin Foster, a Lubbock resident advocating for certain book removals, told EverythingLubbock.

Zoom in: The most-challenged book in Texas was Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," which focuses on an African American girl growing up after the Depression who is seen as "ugly" due to her dark skin.

  • Nationwide, it was the third-most challenged book with 73 attempts on grounds of "depiction of sexual abuse," equity/diversity/inclusion content and "claimed to be sexually explicit."

Flashback: A different group, PEN America, which tracks book bans using a different methodology, also found Texas leading the nation in total books targeted.

Of note: Texas is the country's second-most populous state, but of the other biggest states, California only saw 32 attempts, Florida 35 and New York 33.

What we're watching: A new law that passed the Texas Legislature in April, House Bill 900, aims to ban "sexually explicit" books from school libraries and require vendors to assign ratings to books based on depictions or references to sex.

  • Two Texas bookstores — BookPeople in Austin and Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston — and three national bookseller associations are suing to stop the law.
  • A judge last week blocked it from going into effect in the meantime.

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