Volume XXV: The Latest on Book Bans
Spring Brings New Reports That Further Fuel the Fight
Book bans feel as if they’re becoming the new norm, especially as we near the 2024 election cycle and politicians continue weaponizing them in the attempt to assert power. The latest reports are a further call to action, urging us all to get involved locally to establish the importance and accessibility of representation in literature.
[Dear readers: This issue contains discussions of white supremacy.]
While many look to the new year as a symbolic refresh, there’s undeniably something about spring that calls for new beginnings. As overcast weather turns to blue skies, we can’t help but want to spend the longer days in a park with a good book.
“Is there anything better than iced coffee and a bookstore on a sunny day? I mean, aside from hot coffee and a bookstore on a rainy day,” writes Emily Henry in Book Lovers, and we can’t help but agree—grabbing an iced drink from our favorite cafe and spending hours browsing the shelves of bookstores, whether for new releases or unexpected finds, is a beloved hobby. There’s also the pleasure that comes with spring cleaning, including bookshelves. Whether trading books to used bookstores, donating them to local Little Free Libraries or other organizations, or selling them to raise money for timely causes, there are plenty of ways to make room for new reads and help get these stories into other readers’ hands.
But more importantly, this spring has brought the latest reports on book bans. Both the American Library Association (ALA) and PEN America released updated reports on the state of book bans in the U.S, their findings demonstrating the ongoing importance of our involvement at a local, state, and nationwide level. Taking action to assert the value of these stories containing real-world representation and accurate depictions of history is on all of us.
In this newsletter issue, we’re diving into how we can fight against bans, especially given this latest data. How can we as readers help ensure that the students who need these stories the most have access to them? And how can we support the educators working tirelessly to support these young readers?
A Deeper Look
In 2022, the ALA saw the largest number of attempted bans since they started reporting 20 years ago, with 1,269 demands of censorship—a number that is likely much higher as their report is based on self-reporting and public news stories. That the vast majority of bans targeted books by BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ authors comes as no surprise—bans across the U.S. claim stories by queer authors are “grooming” children and that stories about racism in the States are “dividing” students. In reality, such stories are essential for building empathy, helping us all better understand history, and establishing new connections.
In PEN America’s latest report, the organization found a 28% increase in bans compared to their last report from the first half of 2022. These bans impacted over 800 titles, and they too saw that the stories primarily targeted were by/about BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ identities. And new to their findings: they’re seeing an uptick in “wholesale bans,” meaning educators and librarians are being forced to empty or close entire libraries of books.
These bans are largely coming from organized efforts, such as advocacy groups and enforced legislation. 31% were connected to state laws, 25% to political pressure from elected officials, and 20% to advocacy groups, such as Moms for Liberty. And they’re not just stopping with libraries; If House Bill 900 is passed in Texas, bookstores would be held accountable for selling “problematic” books to libraries.
BookRiot writer Kelly Jensen recently conducted a survey with literary agents, curious whether bans are changing the publishing industry for the worse. Are publishers acquiring even less books by BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ authors in order to placate the politicians and vocal minority pushing for bans? The response was telling; Despite the survey being widely circulated, barely any agents took the time to reply.
“There has been virtually no response from publishers about the ongoing rise of book bans…so it should come as little surprise, I suppose, that agents don’t have much to say, either,” Jensen wrote. Publishers’ prioritization of profits over accuracy and accessibility makes their stance clear.
All of this makes it even more critical that we readers, book lovers, authors, publishing employees, and other bookish individuals, no matter where we are or whether we think book bans are/are not happening in our area, get actively involved. Showing our support now for library/school funding and literature’s accessibility is essential.
Ways to Respond
This is not “just” about book bans—it is one more way white supremacists are attempting to exert control and maintain power, just as they are with bans on gender affirming care and bodily autonomy. Bans are also not just happening in a few states, even if we think they’re simply in “red” states. It’s on all of us to ensure these critical stories are accessible, no matter where we live. We can’t just “dismiss” the acts as being another state’s/town’s problem. “No amount of online resources, no amount of hashtags or glossy campaigns, and no amount of screaming on social media is going to change the fact that the only way to truly make a difference is to show up,” wrote Jensen in her weekly column on censorship.
So how can we show up?
Stay up-to-date on challenges and bans not just in your immediate area, but across the country. Your support is needed everywhere.
Write/call your local school and library board representatives. Here are templates to help you get started.
Figure out when your local school and library board meets. Show up (with friends) and share the facts.
Many states require public schools and libraries to share their budget proposals publicly. Familiarize yourself with these proposals, their timelines, and where schools are allocating funds.
Show up to these hearings and advocate for the necessity of school/library budgets and contest any proposals that allocate budget for furthering bans.
Vote in local school and library board elections if eligible. If not, raise awareness on social media, via street marketing, and by contacting those you know who are serving.
Run for school and library board positions, and encourage your peers to run as well.
Contact your state and local representatives and urge them to protect the accessibility of these critical stories.
Vote in local, state, and national elections for representatives that believe in the accessibility of critical stories.
Find even more resources and ways to get involved here, and find our own template to contact your reps with here. We also encourage you to follow Kelly’s weekly update column on BookRiot and subscribe to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom’s weekly newsletter. To learn even more about book bans, you can see all of our posts on the topic here.
Earlier this week, we went Live on Instagram, encouraging our community to spend the time with us writing to political representatives. If you joined and found the time helpful, or if you would find it helpful for us to host more of these in the future, be sure to let us know in the comments.
We are looking for short (~150 words) writing submissions on any topic that are rooted in and/or guided by an intersectional feminist lens!
Each published writer will receive their choice of one of the following:
$25.00 gift card to bookstore of choice
$25.00 donation to organization of choice
Feel free to reach out with any questions and submit your pieces either at the link below or via email, with the subject line Collected Words Submission.
Wrong answers only, please.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read this month’s newsletter. If you’re able, we encourage you to visit your local bookstore(s) this weekend on Saturday, April 29th in honor of Independent Bookstore Day—a day second only to the holiday season in terms of sales for bookstores. If you can’t visit in person, consider shopping from them directly online! And if that’s still not an option, check them out on Libro.fm or Bookshop.org.
We’ll be back in a few weeks, and in the meantime make sure to check out our free downloads (wallpapers, templates, and more), and our exclusive downloads for newsletter subscribers (with password newsletterdownloads).
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, the comments below, or Instagram DM.