Book challenges increase in Ohio, across US as groups seek to ban multiple titles
The American Library Association reported a record number of book challenges for the second year in a row, saying book challenges nearly doubled in 2022 from the previous year.
Before 2021, most challenges were aimed at one book. Now, it’s common for as many as 100 books to be challenged at a time, according to the ALA.
On March 13, area resident Asim Farooqui, representing a Muslim parental advocacy group, asked the Hilliard Board of Education at its meeting to remove 35 books from school libraries. He said that 1,270 members of the Muslim community had signed a petition to get rid of the material “once and for all.”
“I'm here today to represent one of the prime concerns of Muslim families and community, and that is the progressively deteriorating moral climate in our schools. One of such concern is with the reading material that our students are exposed to in our school and classroom libraries,” Farooqui said.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said challenges like Farooqui’s have become common.
“We’re observing the results of a well-organized and well-funded campaign to remove certain books from our school libraries and our public libraries,” Caldwell-Stone said.
She noted that in cases where dozens of titles are opposed, it’s unlikely that the challenger read and understood every book on the list.
“We’re observing the results of a well-organized and well-funded campaign to remove certain books from our school libraries and our public libraries."Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom
The ALA report shows that last year, 2,571 unique titles were targeted in 1,269 challenges, way up from the 1,858 titles that were challenged in 729 instances in 2021.
In Ohio, book challenges more than tripled from 2021 to 2022 – going from 10 challenges to 34. In terms of the individual books challenged, the number jumped from 15 to 79. In 2022, there were also six challenges to library displays or programs.
That’s a stark difference from 2018, which saw six challenges, each for just one book.
Those, however, are just the challenges ALA knows about. The numbers reflect what is filed by library professionals or covered in news stories. Since many challenges aren’t reported, it’s likely the numbers are higher.
Most – though not all – challenges are to books about marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQ community and people of color, Caldwell-Stone said. Overwhelmingly, they are books intended for younger readers.
“There will be some who say that anything touching on sex, sexuality, gender identity, sexual orientation is inherently inappropriate for any minor to read,” Caldwell-Stone said.
She said that groups that target such books send a message of exclusion.
Titles Farooqui wants removed from Hilliard schools include George Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” and Jesse Andrews’ “The Haters” and “Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl.” Some titles, like Meryl Gordon’s “The Flower Girl Wore Celery,” are picture books for children as young as 4.
Most books on the list include LGBTQ characters or deal with sex or sexual abuse. Others are controversial for violent scenes, profanity or highlighting topics like mental illness or slavery.
Farooqui used the words “grotesque” and “immoral” to describe the books.
“Some of this material can be simply called sex manuals, and they have no literary value whatsoever, not even one single page in the whole entire book,” Farooqui said.
Both he and another speaker, Cynthia Sheets, decried “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson. The young adult book, among other topics, includes candid information on gay sex.
“I'm not offended by the title. I'm offended by the content,” Sheets said.
“I'm not offended by the title. I'm offended by the content."Cynthia Sheets, Hilliard parent
The challenges of challenges
The meeting was not the first time the Hilliard Board Of Education heard cries of outrage over books in the school system’s library, as they’ve been fielding challenges for months.
Board President Beth Murdoch noted that under the board’s current policies, it would take eight years to get through the books that have already been challenged. They had been doing books one at a time, giving each 90 days.
The board just voted on an appeal for a book that had been challenged months earlier at a September meeting. A parent wanted to remove “Looking for Alaska” from one junior high and three high school libraries. The coming-of-age tale includes a descriptive sexual encounter between teens.
The board ultimately voted 3 to 2 to keep the book in Hilliard’s libraries, following a recommendation from a school committee that was also split in its decision. The committee included an administrator, a board member, two media specialists and two teachers, district Superintendent David Stewart said.
Much of the board’s debate centered around whether they could remove a book because they personally found it inappropriate when some parents might have a different opinion.
“That line is subjective for all of us.” said board member Zach Vorst.
“That’s why I air on giving parents the choice, because that line is subjective,” board member Nadia Long said. “So, the parents, that's their job, that's their choice. So, parent choice doesn't just go one way. Parent choice is giving parents the choice to read it or to not read it.”
The district already has an option for parents to keep their children from checking out certain books from school libraries. Since its implementation earlier this year, parents have used the system to make 23 titles off limits for three students.
Off the shelves
If you go to the Columbus Metropolitan Library, you won’t find many commonly challenged books on the shelves, but that’s only because most of them have been checked out and are being read.
“I think what a challenge to an item provides is an opportunity for education, because oftentimes I think if a person comes forward with a challenge, they believe they have honorable intent in what they're trying to accomplish,” said Columbus Metropolitan Library CEO Patrick Losinksi.
He said the library system has not seen the uptick in book challenges that has made news in other places, though he’s keeping an eye on national trends. In the past few years, the library has only had one or two challenges annually.
To challenge a book at the library, all one must do is fill out a form. The challenged book goes through a review process that includes looking at circulation data within the library and at other libraries throughout the state and U.S. Eventually, a recommendation comes back to Losinski.
The Columbus library system has never taken a book off its shelves, though it has moved books to different sections to change the age designation, Losinski said.
“We respect the right of every individual to make their own choices, to make their own choices for their own children, but not to apply that standard to others or to others’ children,” Losinski said.
He sees a silver lining in the publicity around book challenges and bans: it’s causing people to reflect on the purpose of public libraries. He said they’re democracy’s best-kept promise.
“In a free society, we're trying to preserve the rights of individuals to gain access to the materials that they believe will help them the most in their life,” Losinski said.
Cadwell-Stone said the ALA initiative, Unite Against Book Bans, encourages everyone to learn about censorship and speak out against it.
|Books Challenged at the March 13 Hilliard School Board Meeting|
|10,000 Dresses||Ewert, Marcus|
|All Boys Aren't Blue||Johnson, George|
|Attack of the Black Rectangles||King, Amy Sarig|
|Boy Meets Boy||Leviathan, David|
|Call Me By Your Name||Acimin, Andre|
|Call Me Max||Lukoff, Kyle|
|Felix Ever After||Callender, Kacen|
|The Flower Girl Wore Celery||Gordon, Meryl|
|The Hate U Give||Thomas, Angie|
|The Haters||Andrews, Jesse|
|I am Jazz||Herthel, Jessica and Jennings, Jazz|
|In Our Mother's House||Polacco, Patricia|
|Introducing Teddy||Walton, Jessica|
|Jacob's New Dress||Hoffman, Sarah and Ian|
|The Kite Runner||Hosseini, Khaled|
|Milk and Honey||Kaur, Rupi|
|Not in Room 204||Riggs, Shannon|
|The Perks of Being a Wallflower||Chbosky, Stephen|
|Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag||Sanders, Rob|
|Sharice's Big Voice||Mays, Nanay and Davids, Sharice|
|The Sun and Her Flowers||Kaur, Rupi|
|This Book is Gay||Dawson, Juno|
|This Day in June||Pitman, Gayle|
|The Upside of Unrequited||Albertalli, Becky|
|When Aidan Becomes a Brother||Lukoff, Kyle|