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The number of book titles that people tried to ban rose by 65% last year

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Attempts to restrict library books continued to increase last year. That's according to a report out today from the American Library Association. Overall, the number of individual titles challenged in public and school libraries spiked by 65%. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, it's the highest level ever recorded by the ALA.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: The ALA data paints a picture of how the fight over books is morphing. It shows what the ALA calls an alarming increase in the number of titles challenged last year, especially books in public libraries. Book challenges there rose by 93% over the year before compared to an 11% increase in school libraries. But Deborah Caldwell-Stone, head of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, says that more of the challenges are coming from relatively few activists.

DEBORAH CALDWELL-STONE: We're not seeing an individual read a book and raise a concern about a book. We're seeing organized groups go to school boards, go to the library boards, demanding the removal of dozens if not hundreds of books at a time. They're simply downloading lists from advocacy groups and demanding the removal of those books.

SMITH: Almost half the challenged books deal with LGBTQ themes and race or racism, as has been the case in past years. And the most challenges were recorded in Florida and Texas. But as to what ultimately happens to those books, the ALA report doesn't say. ALA researchers say that's because the challenge process takes time, and it's too soon to say what percent of cases result in books being removed, relocated or remaining on the shelves. But Max Eden with the American Enterprise Institute says his research over the past two years shows that books, in large part, end up surviving their challenges.

MAX EDEN: The ones that are being taken away are very sexually explicit, and so it's reasonable to get alarmed if and when these books are being taken away. But to be alarmed when these books are challenged just shows that parents are paying attention and want to register their part in a democratic process of conversation.

SMITH: The number of books surviving challenges may be a glimmer of hope, as Caldwell-Stone sees it, that school and library boards are supporting their librarians who say those books are important to readers. But less encouraging, as she sees it, is that the battle over books continues to escalate as a growing number of states are passing laws to restrict books and some of those laws are being challenged in court. Tovia Smith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEAN CARNE SONG, "VISIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.
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