School Libraries 2021: Librarians Face Coordinated Efforts to Remove Books

Librarians are responding to a rise in book challenges as parents target titles that deal with race, racism, or social justice in even the most tangential way, as well as books that have LGBTQ+ characters and themes.

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It is increasingly clear that a big part of many librarians' jobs for the foreseeable future will be responding to book challenges. While there are always individual book challenges at schools and public libraries, schools and public libraries are seeing a coordinated effort of opposition to a wide range of materials.

The 2020 Top 10 Most Challenged Books list by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) released in April showed a “precipitous rise in challenges to books about race and racial equity, and racism,” according to National Coalition Against Censorship’s Nora Pelizzari.

[Read: George Tops Most Challenged List for Third Year in a Row: 
Stamped Takes No. 2 Spot]

Across the country, titles that simply have BIPOC characters or discuss racism or Black historical figures are being challenged, includingThe Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, I am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer, Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, and Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

[Read: New Kid, Front Desk Challenged; Alex Gino Talks Impact of Book Banning]

In Central York (PA) School District, the board of education voted to rescind the removal of an extensive list of materials by creators of color after protests by students gained national attention. The list included documentaries, websites, and adult titles, such as How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond.

With a parental complaint, books are being removed for review and authors’ visits canceled.

[Read: Fight Against Censorship Intensifies]

Newbery winner Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act were removed in Katy, TX, and his visit canceled. In Southlake, TX, a teacher was reprimanded for having a copy of Tiffany Jewell’s This Book is Anti-Racist in her classroom. The district released a rubric for deciding which books can stay in classrooms, and, according to reports, teachers have resorted to covering their shelves so students can’t get to the books.

It’s not just Texas. New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Ohio are among states seeing coordinated efforts targeting books. Librarians need a written policy for challenges and must know where to seek resources and support.

“Policies outline a process that allows for a thoughtful reconsideration of materials and services, away from bias and influence,” says OIF assistant director Kristin Pekoll. “Reporting censorship is a professional and ethical responsibility. We need to know about it. We track the books and programs and displays and databases that are being challenged so we can strategically focus our energy into providing resources.”

Kara Yorio is SLJ’s news editor.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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