Attempts to restrict library materials increased this year, data shows

In West Virginia, one attempt was made to restrict or remove three titles so far this year

By: - October 3, 2023 6:00 am

A display for Banned Books Week at the Kanawha County Library in Charleston, W.Va. on Oct. 2, 2023. (Leann Ray | West Virginia Watch)

Preliminary data from the American Library Association indicates an increase in the number of attempts to ban books and library services nationwide.

Oct. 1 through 7 marks Banned Book Week, which celebrates freedom to read and spotlights attempts to censor library materials. 

According to the American Library Association, from January through August this year, 695 attempts have been made to censor library materials nationwide. Challenges were made to at least 1,915 unique titles. The number represents a 20 percent increase over the same period last year, the association said. 

In 2022, the American Library Association documented 1,269 demands to censor books and resources, which was the highest number the organization had documented since it began collecting the information more than 20 years ago. Only 729 book challenges were reported in 2021.

The biggest contributor to the increase in censorship attempts and the increase in titles, the organization said, was groups or people demanding the removal or restriction of multiple titles. Prior to 2021 most challenges to library resources sought to restrict a single book, the organization said. 

“These attacks on our freedom to read should trouble every person who values liberty and our constitutional rights,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a news release. “To allow a group of people or any individual, no matter how powerful or loud, to become the decision-maker about what books we can read or whether libraries exist, is to place all of our rights and liberties in jeopardy.”

“Expanding beyond their well-organized attempts to sanitize school libraries, groups with a political agenda have turned their crusade to public libraries, the very embodiment of the First Amendment in our society. This places politics over the well-being and education of young people and everyone’s right to access and use the public library.”

Most of the challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the organization said.

In West Virginia from January through August, one attempt has been made to restrict a total of three titles.

A group of people in Wood County attempted to remove sex education books, even going so far as filing a police report and working with a state senator on legislation to regulate books, according to a story by Mountain State Spotlight. 

Last year, there were three attempts to restrict access to a total of eight books in West Virginia, the organization reported. The data is compiled by the library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom from librarians and media accounts and represents a snapshot of book censorship, the organization said. 

View ACLU-WV’s Banned Books Week schedule of events here.

This week The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and the Kanawha County Public Library will host events focused on reading and free speech this week to mark national Banned Book Week.

Those events include family story times, film screenings, virtual read-alongs, and a panel discussion  on the 1974 Kanawha Textbook Warswith community leaders Rev. Ron English, attorney Thornton Cooper, and author Denise Giardina. 

“It’s important we ask ourselves just how far have we really come since those turbulent, violent  days in the 1970s,” Eli Baumwell, ACLU-WV interim director, said in a news release. “Nearly 50 years later, we have yet another pro-censorship movement labeling everything they disagree with as  ‘pornography’ and demanding the state control what students can and cannot read. 

“This movement is trying to roll back the progress society has made toward justice for  marginalized communities,” Baumwell continued. “Polls show that very few Americans support  banning books over so-called ‘divisive topics.’ What we don’t need is a silent majority. Talk to  your legislators, your library board members, and school board members. Thank them for  standing strong against censorship, or remind them of the First Amendment’s guarantees if they  support censorship.” 


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Lori Kersey
Lori Kersey

Lori Kersey is a reporter with a decade of experience reporting in West Virginia. She covers state government for West Virginia Watch.