October 21, 2017

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Study to Explore Link Between Book Challenges and Diverse Books

Banned Books Week (September 27–October 3) reminds us that intellectual freedom is being threatened in our public institutions. Although the American Library Association’s list of most frequently challenged books is based upon self-reported data, it is clear that, over time, an increasing number of titles about diverse characters have been challenged.

Consider that eight of the ten books on ALA’s 2014 challenged books list can be characterized as diverse since they have main characters that are non-white or non-heterosexual.

Emily Knox

Emily Knox

This trend is also evident in general news reports about book challenges. As part of my research over the past six years, I have set up to receive ongoing Google alerts for search terms such as “book complaint,” “book reconsideration,” “book hearing,” “book challenge,” and so on. If a challenge to a book seems like it has legs, I create a more specific Google alert such as:

  • Alabama “bluest eye”
  • Columbus “bluest eye”
  • “Eleanor & Park” Hennepin
  • Troy area school board “kite runner”
  • Westfield book Alexie
  • Lehigh “bluest eye”
  • North Carolina “invisible man”

Around half of my alerts from the last six years involve books that center on diverse characters. All this despite the dearth of books by diverse authors and about diverse characters. Of the 3,500 books for children published in 2014, very few were by or about people of color, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC). Only 179, for example, were by or about African Americans.

Author Malinda Lo, one of the creators of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, wrote a September 2014 blog post demonstrating that diverse books are often the targets of challenges in public libraries and schools. These challenges significantly decrease children’s access to books that feature protagonists who do not fit within cultural norms of American society. It is imperative that we find out more about how and why these books are targeted and what can be done to protect access to diverse literature.

To this end, I plan to conduct research to answer the following questions:

  1. Is there a correlation between statewide adoption of the Common Core State Standards recommended reading lists and challenges to diverse books?
  2. What are the stated reasons for challenging diverse books compared to those given for non-diverse books? Are these in some way related to the diversity of the characters?
  3. Are there potential practices that could protect access to diverse books in public libraries and schools?

This research will expand my own work on why people challenge books. I plan to add to Lo’s publicly available data and publish my findings in both practitioner and scholarly journals. Overall, I hope that this research will expand our understanding of book challenges especially those that concern underrepresented populations in our society.

About the author:

Emily J.M. Knox (emilyknox.net) is the author of Book Banning in 21st Century America (Rowman & Littlefield, January 2015). She is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include intellectual freedom and censorship, the intersection of print culture and reading practices, and information ethics and policy.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for doing this research!