Suffering from rapidly dwindling membership and heated controversy over its entrenched determination to provide sexualized books to children, the American Library Association (ALA) says formal challenges to sex-themed children’s books are at an all-time high.
According to its latest data, 2023 is on pace to overtake the previous record year for challenged books, which was 2022. Many of these contested titles are focused on material that introduces children to LGBTQ sexual themes and encourages them to question or explore their sexual identities at a young age. Other challenged books promote divisive theories on race relations.
The challenges come at a time when the ALA’s membership is rapidly shrinking. Once widely respected, the 140-year-old association is rapidly declining amid its controversial efforts to radically reshape public libraries across the nation.
While it remains the largest association of librarians in the country, with 49,705 members, that’s the lowest number since 1989. Tens of thousands of librarians, including entire states, have abandon the flagship organization. As recently as 2005, the ALA boasted more than 66,000 members.
The national outcry against sexualized library books has affected multiple libraries across Alaska, spurring parents to flood school board and city council meetings to protest books that many deem outright pornographic.
Each year, the ALA reviews news articles and other reports to compile a list of challenged library books. The list, however, is only a fraction of the total, as the ALA readily acknowledges.
Between January 1 and August 31, 2023, ALA reported 695 challenges to nearly 2,000 different library books. That’s a 20% increase over the same reporting period in 2022, the year in which the highest number of book challenges occurred since ALA began compiling this data more than 20 years ago.
Despite increased challenges and widespread controversy, the ALA remains adamant that community and school libraries continue to stock highly graphic sexualized books for youth.
The organization claims that any attempt to remove such books is an “attack on our freedom to read” and a threat to “liberty and our constitutional rights.”
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, disparaged those who challenge books as loud, powerful and a danger to freedom.
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Caldwell-Stone’s Sept. 19 statement refuses to admit even the slightest merit to parental challenges to library books which many consider pornographic. Instead, she and other library leaders are asking activists to push back.
The national outcry against sexualized library books has affected multiple libraries across Alaska, spurring parents to flood school board and city council meetings in Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Mat-Su, Kenai and communities in Southeast.
While most public libraries provide a process to challenge books, these are generally formalities, with books rarely ever being removed by librarians. This entrenched position has led borough assemblies and elected county officials to take matters into their own hands.
The Mat-Su Borough School Board has established a citizens’ library group which is reviewing nearly 60 challenged books to determine whether they violate Alaska’s laws against disseminating pornographic material to minors. The first four have already been recommended for removal from some or all school libraries.
In Anchorage, the Library Advisory Board was on track to take similar measures before the Anchorage Assembly stripped the board from all decision making with regard to challenged books.