Margaret Atwood’s Flamethrower

In order to maintain my fragile sanity, I’ve been taking short sabbaticals from news and social media. The last time decided I was ready dip my toes back in the murky pool of current affairs, I took a breath, began my morning commute and flipped on KPR’s morning show. I was welcomed with this story about a recent book challenge in Louisiana.

I was NOT ready to return to the fray. By the time I arrived at the library 15-minutes later, I‘d already cycled through those familiar feelings of anger, sadness, and disappointment. In the last few years, I’ve been hearing more and more stories like this, so I thought I’d do a little digging to see if situations like this are really increasing.

Sure enough, books are being challenged at a record rate. Even with an estimated 82% of challenges going unreported, the American Library Association (ALA) was alerted to 1,597 book challenges or removals in all of 2021. That’s way up from 377 in 2019. Already in the first nine months of 2022 there have been 1,586 books banned in US schools!

Book bans are powerful because stories are powerful. Stories have the power to increase empathy, understanding and connection. While the majority of book challenges center on people of color, or contain LGBTQIA+ themes, this is not an issue that only impacts marginalized groups. On the list of top 100 most challenged books, the Bible ranks #52, more challenged than This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson.

Each September, the ALA holds Banned Books Week, an opportunity to celebrate our freedom to read. This year the official celebration is held September 18-24. There are lots of events—virtual and in person—around the country. You can celebrate by reading your favorite banned classic or banned children’s book, or just watch this great video of Margaret Atwood with a flamethrower raising money to fight censorship.

Do you feel passionate about this topic? Here’s a list of nonpartisan organizations that offer opportunities for you to report censorship, donate to legal funds, and access information about how you can help:

American Library Association | Fight Censorship Page

Pen America

Advocate | Donate | Sign Petitions

Freedom To Read Foundation | ALA Affiliate

Donate | Buy Merch | Learn

National Coalition Against Censorship

Report Censorship | Learn | Donate

Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Get Involved | Access Resources | Donate

-Angela Hyde is the Friends & Foundation Program Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.