Library book challenges soared in 2023, ALA report finds Overall, the number of individual titles challenged in both school and public libraries spiked by 65% — the highest level ever recorded by the ALA.

American Library Association report says book challenges soared in 2023

American Library Association report says book challenges soared in 2023

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The American Library Association report released Thursday found that nearly half of the books challenged last year deal with LGBTQ themes or with race or racism, much like in years past. Rick Bowmer/AP hide caption

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Rick Bowmer/AP

The American Library Association report released Thursday found that nearly half of the books challenged last year deal with LGBTQ themes or with race or racism, much like in years past.

Rick Bowmer/AP

Attempts to restrict library books continued to accelerate last year, according to a report released Thursday from the American Library Association. Overall, the number of individual titles challenged in both school and public libraries rose 65% from the previous year — the highest level ever recorded by the ALA.

The data paints a picture of how the fight over books is morphing. It shows what the ALA calls an "alarming" increase in the number of titles challenged last year. That was especially the case with public libraries, where challenges rose by 93% compared with 2022. School libraries saw an 11% increase.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, head of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, says more of the challenges are coming from relatively few activists.

"We're not seeing an individual read a book and raise a concern about a book," she says. "We're seeing organized groups go to school boards, go to library boards, demanding the removal of dozens, if not hundreds, of books at a time, they are simply downloading lists from advocacy groups and demanding removal of those books."

Almost half the challenged books deal with LGBTQ themes or with race or racism, as has been the case in past years. And the most challenges were recorded in Florida and Texas.

As to what ultimately happens to those books, the ALA report doesn't say. The group says that's because the book challenge process takes time and because it's too soon to know what percent of cases result in books being removed or relocated and how many remain on the shelves.

But Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says his research over the past two years shows that books in large part end up surviving their challenges.

"The [books] that are being taken away are very sexually explicit," he says. "It's reasonable to get alarmed if and when these books are being taken away, but to be alarmed when these books are challenged just shows that parents are paying attention and just want to register their part in the democratic process of conversation."

The number of books surviving challenges might indeed be a glimmer of hope for those defending diverse library collections. The ALA's Caldwell-Stone says it suggests that school and library boards are supporting their educators and librarians who say those books are important to readers.

But it's less encouraging, as she sees it, that the battle over books continues to escalate. She points to the growing number of states passing laws to restrict books, and the growing number of those laws now being challenged in court.