The American Library Association (ALA) reported in March that attempts to ban books in libraries and schools in the United States set a record last year.
The group said there were 1,269 attempts to “censor library books and resources in 2022.” That is almost double the number of attempts from the year before. And it is the highest number reached in more than 20 years.
The ALA reported that a record 2,571 books were targeted. The large majority of those books were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color, the report says.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone is head of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. She said, "The choice of what to read must be left to the reader or, in the case of children, to parents. That choice does not belong to self-appointed book police.”
But conservative lawmakers and supporters say they want to ban some books to protect children from harmful materials.
A new law in the midwestern state of Missouri has resulted in several books being removed from libraries. In the state of Florida, lawmakers recently passed three new laws related to controlling reading material.
In the northwestern state of Idaho, Republican lawmakers have proposed legislation that would ban public libraries from holding material judged harmful to minors.
And one town in the state of Texas is considering going a step further — closing the public library.
'A book's never hurt anybody'
Llano is a rural town 120 kilometers from Austin, the state capital. There, officials proposed closing the library system after a federal judge ruled against the local lawmakers' decision to remove some books.
"A book's never hurt anybody," said J.R. Decker, who noted that his family has lived in Llano for generations. "My government's telling me the only thing they can protect my child from is books. They should be worried about gun violence and school safety."
Decker was among the people who protested at a recent meeting regarding the attempt to close the library.
Among those who spoke was Suzette Baker, a former Llano County librarian who says she was fired after refusing to remove some books.
"I would like to know how the 'History of the KKK' is pornographic? 'How to be an Anti-Racist,' how is that pornographic? It's not," Baker said at the hearing.
"This is not about taking away rights. This is not a communist nation. This is not a Nazi nation. You do not get to pick our reading material, it is ours."
Book-ban supporter Rhonda Schneider defended the effort. She listed a number of books in the Llano library that she said contain graphic sexuality.
"It is not a safe space for kids,” Schneider argued.
Emmett McPherson did not get called to speak at the hearing. But he said he agreed that the library’s books are unsafe for children. "I am willing to close the whole library to keep them out of my children's hands," he said.
Shirley Robinson leads the Texas Library Association. She said while some of the books cited at the meeting may be objectionable to some, they are not pornographic.
"So first of all, there is a legal definition of pornography," said Robinson. "And there are never any materials in any library — school, public or academic — that would meet that legal definition of pornography."
Texas book ban efforts
Robinson said attempts to ban some books in Texas began in 2021. A lawmaker contacted libraries asking if they had any books among a list of nearly 850 titles. Many of the titles were LGBTQ-related or were written by or about people of color, she added.
Robinson said there are 40 proposed bills relating to libraries in the state legislature at the moment. Some of the bills open the possibility of criminal charges against librarians.
"Librarians are leaving the profession because there is this threat of potential criminal prosecution or just harassment within their communities," Robinson said.
One librarian who quit is Lee Glover, who was an elementary school librarian in the Houston, Texas, area.
She said there was a process in place to follow before she could put a book into the library. "But now they want me to have parents come and review them before I order them?"
The students are the losers in the book-banning battle, Glover added. "We are the lifeline for so many kids.”
For now, the Llano County library system remains open. At its recent meeting, county leaders voted to delay the decision while they appeal the federal order to return the books to the local library. That decision is expected in autumn.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Deana Mitchell reported this story for VOA News. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English.
Words in This Story
censor - v. to examine books, movies, etc... in order to remove things considered harmful, offensive or immoral
pornographic - adj. showing or describing naked people or sex in the open
graphic - adj. show or describe in a very clear way
title - n. the name give to something like a book or movie
potential - adj. capable of becoming real, possible
prosecution - n. the act or process of holding atrial against a person accused of a crime to see if that person is guilty
harassment - n. the act of annoying someone repeatedly
review - v. to study and examine something again