Mar 25, 2024 - News

California sees increase in book titles challenged

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

California saw an increase in the number of books challenged in the state from 2022 to 2023, according to the American Library Association.

Why it matters: California is often considered a haven for LGBTQ and other marginalized communities, but the rise of book ban attempts across the country has led to a similar push in the state — and in parts of the Bay Area.

Driving the news: In 2023, 98 titles were challenged in California, up from 87 in 2022.

  • The most-challenged books were the same as in 2022: "Gender Queer: A Memoir" and "Beyond Magenta."
  • "Gender Queer" is a comic-book-style memoir recounting author Maia Kobabe's exploration of gender identity and sexuality, while "Beyond Magenta" chronicles interviews with transgender young adults about their transitions.

State of play: In California, LGBTQ-related materials have faced the bulk of blowback in schools and libraries — most visibly at drag queen story hours.

  • An East Bay school district has grappled for over a year with a group of parents' demands to remove books they deem inappropriate — primarily those with LGBTQ content — from school libraries.
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom was similarly embroiled in a high-profile dispute last year over a Riverside County school district's rejection of state-endorsed textbooks that discussed San Francisco gay rights leader Harvey Milk.

What we're watching: In response to a growing number of book ban bills across the country, officials in blue and purple states are coming to the aid of librarians to help them fight efforts to remove books with certain racial, sexual or gender-related themes.

  • In September, Newsom signed into law a bill prohibiting schools from banning books on racial or LGBTQ teachings — authorities that defy the legislation could face fines.
  • Attorney General Rob Bonta and state Superintendent Tony Thurmond have also cautioned educators against book bans and highlighted constitutional protections against such actions.

The big picture: Attempts to ban books at public libraries reached record levels last year, pitting right-wing parents and legislators against those who oppose censorship.

  • Librarians perceive the threat from the book-banning movement as so profound that they're using the more expansive term "intellectual freedom challenges" instead.

What they're saying: "We have broadened the framing to refer to 'intellectual freedom challenges'" rather than just book bans, AnnaLee Dragon, executive director of the New York Library Association, tells Axios.

  • That's in part because libraries are also facing an increase in challenges to programming, such as displays for Pride month, Dragon noted.
  • "A lot of it comes down to libraries being one of the last trusted institutions, and I think that's what's so hurtful about the intellectual freedom challenges that we're facing."

Where it stands: The American Library Association has a campaign, Unite Against Book Bans, to encourage people to take action locally (and buy t-shirts and hoodies to show their support).

  • It also sells a workbook for librarians about "navigating intellectual freedom challenges together."
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