New Research: Book Bans Are Political, but Most Voters Don’t Support Them

The EveryLibrary Institute, the companion organization of library advocacy group EveryLibrary, commissioned Embold Research, a nonpartisan research firm, to poll 1,223 U.S. voters on book banning. The survey found that nearly all (92 percent) have heard at least something about such censorship, and at least 75 percent will consider the issue of book banning when voting this November. Also in observance of Banned Books Week, intellectual freedom organization PEN America offered an update to its previous report, Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights, published in April.

EveryLibrary Institute and PEN America logosThe EveryLibrary Institute, the companion organization of library advocacy group EveryLibrary, commissioned Embold Research, a nonpartisan research firm, to poll 1,223 U.S. voters on book banning. The survey found that nearly all (92 percent) have heard at least something about such censorship, and at least 75 percent will consider the issue of book banning when voting this November.

Half feel there is absolutely no time when a book should be banned—including 31 percent of Republicans, showing that recent library book challenges may not be as popular with the conservative base as is hoped by the vocal few who drive them. Some 41 percent think “there are rare times when it’s appropriate to ban books,” and not even all of those—about 34 percent—support banning books about sexuality. Even fewer, 18 percent, think it’s appropriate to ban books about race, though Republicans are more likely to favor bans on books about race and sexuality than other subjects, and more likely to favor banning those subjects than are Democrats or independents. They and independents, however, are concerned about the possibility of library staffers being charged with crimes for providing challenged books.

“Censorship offends good people for many different reasons,” EveryLibrary Executive Director John Chrastka told LJ. “It’s government overreach, it’s corrosive to our society, and it targets marginalized populations in equal measure. However, those are different political sentiments. Libraries leaders shouldn’t be shy about talking across party lines about book bans.”

By far the fewest believe that classics (3 percent) or children’s books (4 percent) should be banned, despite the fact that by far the majority of banned books are those for children. You can download the full report from EveryLibrary for more detailed breakdowns of opinions, including by age and library use.

These findings paint an encouraging picture of voter support for the freedom to read, which will be sorely needed in light of the American Library Association’s recent Banned Books Week report on the still-growing number of bans and challenges to library books, displays, and programs in 2022 so far.

 

PEN: SCHOOL BANS ORGANIZED, POLITICAL

Also in observance of Banned Books Week, intellectual freedom organization PEN America offered an update to its previous report, Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights, published in April.

For the 2021–22 school year, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique titles by 1,261 different authors, 290 illustrators, and 18 translators. These bans occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states, PEN reported, representing 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students. Because the index relies on self-reporting and media coverage, this is almost certainly an undercount. Despite the EveryLibrary findings that most voters are upset by bans on children’s books, these included 317 picture books and 168 chapter books for younger readers. (Nearly half were YA.)

Of these, 674 titles (41 percent) address LGBTQIA+ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQIA+, including 45 titles, or 9 percent, focused on transgender characters. Some 659 titles (40 percent) contain protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are BIPOC, while 338 titles (21 percent) directly address issues of race and racism. Some 357 titles (22 percent) contain sexual content, including stories about teen pregnancy, sexual assault, or abortion as well as nonfiction about puberty, sex, or relationships. Some 161 titles (10 percent) have themes related to rights and activism. Some 141 titles (9 percent) are either biography, autobiography, or memoir; and 64 titles (4 percent) include characters and stories that reflect religious minorities, such as Jewish, Muslim, and other faith traditions.

Many of these bans are politically driven: PEN America estimates that at least 40 percent are connected to either proposed or enacted legislation, or to political pressure exerted by state officials or elected lawmakers. PEN America has also identified at least 50 groups pushing for book bans, 73 percent of which have formed since 2021. Eight of these groups have 300 cumulative local or regional chapters. At least 20 percent of bans are directly linked to these groups, and there is evidence of their influence in another 30 percent of bans, according to PEN.

Many of these groups, organized on social media, share tactics and long lists of books to challenge. Some employ threats of violence, accusations of grooming children for sexual abuse, and filing criminal charges. The full report concludes, “more often than not, current challenges to books originate not from concerned parents acting individually but from political and advocacy groups working in concert to achieve the goal of limiting what books students can access and read in public schools.” In fact, some challengers don’t have children in the schools at all.

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Meredith Schwartz

mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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