ttempts to censor reading materials in libraries and schools across the U.S. are more prevalent than ever, with documented challenges to over 1,900 different books between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2023 — 20 percent more than those challenged during 2022, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. The four most challenged books of 2022 included Gender Queer, All Boys Aren’t Blue, The Bluest Eye, and Flamer. Of all book challenges, 30 percent were initiated by parents and 28 percent by library patrons, according to an ALA report.
The San Diego Public Library sometimes receives such requests, according to the library’s Collection Development Manager, Jennifer Lawson.
“Some years it’s none, and some years I think I’ve had as many as maybe four or five [requests made]. In this past calendar year, I think maybe one [was submitted],” Lawson said.
The library has a formal process for addressing removal requests, according to Lawson. Someone who wants a book to be removed can be given a “Request for Consideration of Library Material” form, which begins the process of the library deciding if the book should remain in their collection. However, the removal of a book is not done “lightly.”
“We do support the principles of intellectual freedom and we support the rights of citizens to have free access to materials and information,” Lawson said. “So book banning in general doesn’t really align with our organizational values.”
For many young people, the rising number of book challenges is concerning. “Speaking specifically about the recent wave of anti-queer book bannings across the US, it’s more important than ever that commonly challenged reading materials are available to the public,” Torrey Pines High School senior Lucie Babcock said.
.”..Seeing themselves understood and reflected in a book can be a life changing experience for children, and these book bannings prevent this.”
Torrey Pines senior Jasmine Rico said being able to “insert” herself into the lives of characters is important.
“Growing up, in television, media, and even in books, you would hardly see a lot of black characters or they’ll have stereotypical black characters,” Rico said. “Nowadays, there are a lot of fantasy books where you can just insert yourself into a character and you can see yourself.”
Supporting access to relatable, educational books is a goal of the Through the Looking Glass Book Club, which Babcock founded with her co-president, Torrey Pines senior Sydney Robinson. The club hosts an annual book drive to collect books to restock libraries in communities devastated by natural disasters.
“As a club, our used book drive with Reader to Reader is one way that we try to support free access to reading material for all,”Babcock said.
Robinson said kids will need to learn about commonly challenged topics at some point. It’s important to students to have access to reading material that they want to read about,” Robinson said. “Books encourage critical thinking and students should be able to make up their own minds about these concepts.”