Last year saw more requests to ban books in public schools and libraries in the U.S. than any other year in the previous two decades, according to new data from the American Library Association.
The ALA recorded just over 1,000 requests to censor library books, a 70% increase over 2021. Texas led the nation with 93 attempts to restrict access to 2,349 book titles – nearly double the number of attempts as the next state on the list, Pennsylvania.
Nicole Cobler, who covers Austin for Axios, said these numbers represent a wide array of book challenges.
“The American Library Association is actually tracking both attempts to ban books and attempts to relocate them to less accessible places,” she said. “They rely on media reports and they rely on library staff and the public to gather this list. It’s just a snapshot. They’ve been tracking censorship for three decades.”
Cobler said other reports tracking book bans have also found Texas sees the most in the nation. According to the ALA’s dataset, Florida had 35 challenges last year. California, another big state, had 32 attempts, and New York saw 33.
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The data also found that book bans looked different last year than they had in previous years.
“The association has called this increase [in bans] evidence of a ‘well-organized conservative movement’ that’s broadly distributing lists to supporters to file mass challenges,” Cobler said. “Of the over 1,200 attempts nationwide to ban 2,500 books last year, 40% sought to remove or restrict more than 100 books at once. So it’s not just like an individual book challenge from a parent. This is really like mass challenges on lists of books.”
The most challenged book in Texas last year was Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize-winning novel “The Bluest Eye,” which was the third most challenged book nationwide.
“I think overwhelmingly, the country’s top books challenged are over LGBTQ content themes of race and or content that is claimed to be sexually explicit,” Cobler said.
She said these book challenges are part of a broader movement by conservative Texas parents to assert more control over what their children are exposed to in public schools – and are happening alongside state laws that aim to restrict access to some books.
The Texas Legislature passed House Bill 900 this year, which would require vendors selling books to schools to rate them based on sexual content.
“This was a bill that lawmakers passed to keep sexually explicit materials off school library shelves,” Cobler said. “On the eve of that law going into effect, a federal judge stopped that from [happening]. So it’ll be battled out in the courts, and we’ll see what happens.”