The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties marked National Library Week by holding a three-hour hearing April 7th to discuss the recent spike in book bans in school classrooms and libraries across the country.
PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, released a report that found there have been 1,586 book bans in schools over the past nine months.
The American Library Association published its annual report on book censorship, revealing that it had tracked 729 attempts to remove library, school and university materials in 2021, leading to 1,597 book challenges or removals. That is the highest number recorded since the association began tracking the phenomenon 20 years ago.
The committee called witnesses including high school students in Pennsylvania and Washington; librarians, teachers and parents from Pennsylvania and Virginia; and Ruby Bridges, the civil rights activist and author. One of the most challenged books of the past year was the children’s book “Ruby Bridges Goes to School,” which chronicles Bridges’s experiences in 1960 as the first Black child to integrate a New Orleans school.
Most titles targeted in 2021 were written by or about LGBTQ(33%), African Americans(22%), and Health/Sex Education(25%).
The report found that 98% of the more than 1,500 book bans it tracked took place when administrators acted covertly or outside of the normal processes schools have set up to handle book challenges. Schools typically maintain processes that require the formation of review committees to examine challenged books and decide, after weeks or months of study, whether they should remain on shelves or disappear.
The state that saw the most book bans, according to PEN America, was Texas, with 713. Pennsylvania was second with 456 book bans and Florida third with 204 bans. No other state had more than 50 banned titles.
In 1982, the Supreme Court rejected an effort by a school board to toss objectionable books from the town’s public school libraries. That case was Board of Education vs. Pico.