January 30, 2023

Save the Net Books

Blogazine on Books, Arts, and Music

Book bans drive children out of libraries and out of reading

With the rise of book bans and challenges in school libraries, school librarians are buying fewer books. As a Washington Post article explains, many school librarians are facing new restrictions that are making it difficult to get new books, requiring a lengthy parental approval process (Texas), principal’s approval (Pennsylvania), subcommittee review (Florida ) or any number of other bureaucratic mazes set up by states, counties and individual schools.

Some schools, particularly in Florida, were unable to acquire new books at all this school year, while others saw a significant drop in their numbers: in one Texas school district, libraries ordered 6,000 fewer books than last year, while a Pennsylvania school librarian reported, that he has only ordered 100 titles this year instead of the usual 600. OverDrive, which supplies e-books and audiobooks to about half of US school districts, has “lost millions of dollars in sales to the school in 2022.” libraries.

A school librarian in Florida explained that student interest in the library has declined dramatically since recent laws restricted their ability to stock new books: “Students checked out nearly 3,000 titles between August and December 2021, but between August and December 2022 only 1,800.”

The article included photos of several handwritten lists of books that the students requested from their libraries. Normally, librarians would order these immediately to protect students’ interests, as long as they fit well with the collection. Now librarians hold on to these long lists in hopes of ordering them in the future—many students are now tired of waiting and don’t go to the library at all.

A Florida school librarian shared that she had a manga-loving student who had checked out over 300 books in the past year and stopped by daily to see if he was still the #1 user in the school library. When new state-level restrictions prevented the librarian from ordering new manga, this student quickly ran out of supplies and “after a couple of weeks he stopped coming to the library.”

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Even when they do not face formal restrictions on their ability to order books, school librarians in districts that have experienced book bans and challenges are less likely to order books that might later be challenged. LGBTQ books, books that deal with racism, and books on sex education are the most frequently removed from their order lists. Librarians also mentioned that they are reluctant to order graphic novels and manga, as they are most often challenged — even though that format is what students read most.

According to a study of 6,000 school libraries, school districts that had a book challenge last year were 55% less likely to stock new LGBTQ books the following year, showing that self-censorship and “silent censorship” are just as important as formal laws and restrictions that have been introduced. As an EdWeek article put it, “Each new book contested in a district reduces the likelihood by 4 percent that the district would buy a new book about LGBTQ characters.”

To learn more, read Washington Post and EdWeek articles that include interviews with school librarians.

If you’re taking a stand against book bans and censorship in your community, check out our anti-censorship toolkit and subscribe to Literary Activism’s newsletter to stay up to date.

For more interesting news and stories from the world of books, visit Breaking in Books.