The American Library Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and more than two dozen other organizations on Tuesday formed a coalition to fight the far-right’s record-breaking censorship barrage—wherein nearly 1,600 books were targeted for removal from public shelves and schools across the United States in 2021.
The goal of Unite Against Book Bans—which also includes the Authors Guild and prominent publishers such as Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster—is “to empower individuals and communities to fight censorship and protect the freedom to read,” according to the ALA.
“This is a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said in a statement. “Readers, particularly students, are losing access to critical information, and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs.”
“It’s time that policymakers understand the severity of this issue,” said Caldwell-Stone. “ALA is taking the steps necessary to protect individuals’ access to information, but we can’t do this alone.”
Last month, the group launched the Unite Against Book Bans initiative to coincide with the publication of its annual report, which documented 729 attempted bans of 1,597 unique titles last year—the highest number of challenges to library, school, and university materials in a 12-month period since the ALA began tracking more than two decades ago.
In a separate report released last month, PEN America found that U.S. school districts with a combined enrollment of more than two million students successfully banned 1,145 books between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022. Thanks to resistance from students, teachers, librarians, and local residents, however, some book bans have been reversed in recent months.
The ALA hopes to leverage “the strength and reach” of the 26 national organizations that have so far joined its growing coalition. “These groups,” the ALA noted, “are uniting around the principles of reading as fundamental to learning, the right of readers to access a variety of books, and the need to work together to protect that right.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that “reading is foundational.”
“It helps us dream, helps us create, and helps us access opportunity. Whether you’re a kid in rural West Virginia, in the suburbs of Texas, or in a shelter in New York City, opening a book means you’re opening the world,” she continued. “But reading is hard without books.”
“Book bans are about limiting kids’ freedom to read and teachers’ freedom to teach,” said Weingarten. “Parents agree—they want their children to learn the lessons of the past in an age-appropriate way, even as certain politicians try to turn classrooms into cultural battlefields and censor what gets taught.”
Recent polling shows that over two-thirds of voters oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries and school libraries.
Book bans are part of the Republican Party’s broader war on public education that continues to sweep the country. In addition to trying to remove specific titles from schools, colleges, and libraries, GOP lawmakers in 42 states have introduced more than 180 bills since January 2021 that seek to limit the ability of educators and students to discuss gender, racism, and other topics, according to PEN America.
Weingarten noted that the majority of recent book bans “target titles with racial and LGBTQ themes, cruelly erasing young readers’ lived experience.”
“While it’s uncomfortable to talk about tough issues like genocide, slavery, and racism,” she added, “reading honest history helps kids learn the good and the bad about our country and emerge as well-informed, engaged citizens of the world.”
Caldwell-Stone stressed that “our partners and supporters are critical in moving the needle to ultimately bring an end to book bans.”
Calling Tuesday’s announcement “just the beginning,” Caldwell-Stone said that she is “excited to see how this growing collective will influence local boards and state and national legislation to protect the rights of readers and students and the librarians and educators who provide the books they read.”
“There’s clearly a disconnect between what most persons want and the actions of elected officials, given the large number of book bans happening around the country,” she added. “As the campaign evolves, our growing network of supporters will join forces to prevent those bans, ensuring access to information for all and advocating for the important work of libraries and librarians.”