understanding book bans: how they happen, why they matter and what we can do

Thursday, July 20, 2023


If it seems like you're hearing more about book bans, it's because they are happening at a record rate. In 2022 the US had a record number of book bans which was double the previous record set in 2021. 75% of book bans were a result of organized advocacy efforts and/or government official pressure.

What is a book ban? 

A book ban means a specific book has been pulled from either classrooms (i.e. it was a part of a lesson plan and is no longer allowed) and/or the school library. School boards, state or local governments, parent groups, community groups, or administrators can "challenge" books based on content, which often leads to pressure from lawmakers to ban books. 

How do book bans happen?

Despite the fact that 56% - 70% of Americans don't support book bans (the results are non-partisan), organized efforts to ban books have increased. State legislatures have passed laws dictating what kinds of books can be included in school libraries, policies for reviewing current collections, and processes to add new books. In addition, parent led groups have turned up pressure to remove books. Libraries, school districts, and teachers have been instructed to exercise over-caution. 

In fact, a lot of y'all have told me personal stories of being required to remove all books from your classrooms, remove magazines, and getting reported by parents for displaying National Geographic magazines in your rooms. ?!?!?!?!

Why does it matter? 

First and foremost, teachers and school librarians have Master's degrees and often doctor level degrees in education, childhood development, library studies, etc and have had extensive supervised fieldwork to get their jobs. Their curriculum and books are selected based on research and years of education/experience. Do you know who doesn't have a degree in this area? Parents. School boards. State legislators. And those are the people making decisions on banned books.

As important, over a six-month period, 30% of banned books cover race, racism, or feature characters of color. 26% of banned books have LGBTQ+ characters or themes. This is a clearly targeted effort to remove representation and censor history.

What can we do? 

1) VOTE in local elections - school boards often get overlooked in local elections but this is somewhere we can really make a difference in book bans! Google your next school board election, email the candidates for their stance on book bans, share results with your community, and VOTE. Same goes for city officials (city councils, county commissioners) and state level elections.

2) See what's happening in your state re: book bans.

3) Show up to local school board meeting and city council meetings where bans are being discussed. There is power in numbers and showing up matters.

4) Learn how to tailor your message to your crowd. Understand that explaining how Black and LGBTQIA+ people are disproportionately impacted unfortunately does not resonate with a lot of people. Instead focus messaging like:

  • The cost of book banslawsuits, town halls, tax payer dollar funded staff hours to review and remove books and edit policies.
  • Parent choice works both ways, and banning books removes parents' ability to choose and their power.

5) Support your teachers and school librarians. Send gift cards, thank you notes, flair pens. Ask how you can support them. They are doing the best they can in a really really trying environment.

6) Check out and buy banned books.

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