Mar 19, 2024 - News

Massachusetts libraries saw dozens of book ban attempts in 2023

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

Massachusetts libraries faced dozens of book ban attempts in 2023, according to new data from the American Library Association.

Why it matters: Even liberal Massachusetts isn't immune to attempts to ban books that opponents argue are inappropriate for children — often books that center LGBTQ+ people or people of color.

Zoom in: Massachusetts schools and public libraries reported 37 book ban attempts involving 63 titles last year.

  • Book ban attempts are down from 2022, but the number of titles challenged is up, per the ALA.
  • The most targeted title in Massachusetts was, "Gender Queer: A Memoir"

A plainclothes officer searched an eighth grade classroom in Great Barrington for a copy of "Gender Queer" last year after someone complained it had pornographic images.

  • The search sparked a walkout at Monument Mountain Regional High School in December, per the Berkshire Eagle.
  • The Great Barrington Police Department later apologized for the search.

What they're saying: "Every challenge to a library book is an attack on our freedom to read," says ALA President Emily Drabinski.

  • "Libraries that reflect their communities' diversity promote learning and empathy that some people want to hide or eliminate."

Zoom out: The number of books targeted for censorship at U.S. schools and libraries rose 65% in 2023 over 2022, a new record, writes Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson.

  • The titles range from newer books with multicultural and LGBTQ+ themes to classics like "Lord of the Flies" and "To Kill a Mockingbird."
  • The data doesn't track all book challenges, just those that got media coverage or were reported directly to the ALA.

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

  • 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.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Boston stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more