The American Library Association reports that more than 2,500 unique books were banned or challenged. That’s nearly five times the number of books that were complained about or sought to be removed from shelves just four years ago.
However, attempted censorship tends to have a counterintuitive effect. In 2023, the Diary of Anne Frank had a 151% increase in interest after being censored from Texas and Florida school systems for violence complaints.
When a work of literature is banned, it invariably increases interest in the material. Thankfully, In our digital age, it has become exceedingly difficult for oppressive governments or organizations to suppress information people want to access.
A Long History of Censorship
Censoring information in printed books has been recorded as early as Julius Caesar’s rule in 46 B.C. Back then, censorship was often justified to prevent the spread of propaganda that could spark a civil war.
In the U.S., book banning is a delicate issue due to its potential infringement on the First Amendment: Americans’ freedom of speech. It has also been broadly interpreted to include Americans’ right to access information.
In the late 1800s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in several different cases that censorship is constitutional when a book involves obscenity or other elements against public morals. This has been considered of essential importance when it comes to young impressionable minds.
Who is Censoring Our Access to Books?
The most common institutions in the U.S. to ban books are school systems, where parents, teachers, and policymakers are concerned about a child’s exposure to specific topics. Many of the books banned over the years have been removed due to violence, racial or gender insensitivity, or an approach to religious beliefs.
A total book ban that keeps a book out of libraries for public access is less likely, as this is viewed as an infringement on each individual’s rights to information.
The Surprising Books Censored in 2023
In 2023, several books were censored in various educational systems and libraries across the United States. These included:
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- Books about Rosa Parks
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Books by Judy Blume, Jodi Picoult, and Roald Dahl
- This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
These books were banned from various school curriculums in the U.S. due to concerns about violence, language, and overall controversy. For many, the irony is that the book Fahrenheit 451 has been banned, a book about the history of book burning, is not lost.
Censorship Backlash is Always Inevitable
Whether it’s telling people that they can’t drink alcohol during the prohibition period, firmly telling a young child no, or banning books in the 21st century, one thing is certain: humans don’t like being told what to do.
In 2023, a study by A Dimed Saved showed that censored books significantly increased interest and popularity. The top four books that made the list had over a 100-fold increase in online searches in the past 90 days.
Censorship makes people curious about what information is being withheld. When any information is systematically suppressed, these stats show that it only drives more people to seek it out.
Finding a Balance with Young Impressionable Minds
Sharing information without fear of persecution is an essential part of democracy, and accessing books is a vital part of that. The challenge with banning books in school systems and libraries lies in finding the right balance. This involves protecting children from potentially inappropriate or dangerous content while not infringing on each individual’s rights to information.
What’s considered appropriate can range significantly, so it’s essential to have conversations with young people, parents, and teachers about what should be considered acceptable material in the curriculum.
Although banning books can increase interest in the material, it’s ultimately up to each school system or library to decide what is appropriate for their students. Books mustn’t be banned simply because they contain controversial topics, which often results in an overall suppression of knowledge.
The Importance of Exposure to a Variety of Ideas and Opinions
“Reading is important,” says Robyn Goldfarb, founder of A Dime Saved, “Reading about different topics can expand our knowledge beyond what we personally experience in our lives, so reading about uncomfortable topics or about events that took place to other people in different times can give us an understanding and realization beyond what we can gain in our personal lives.”
Exposure to different points of view and diverse perspectives is essential to a well-rounded education, particularly for children. It’s important to create an environment where young people can feel safe to learn about different topics and expand their mindset without feeling discouraged or shamed due to their views.
Society’s Role in Information Exposure
Seeing iconic books that cover important topics such as oppression, censorship, and human rights being banned is dismaying. It’s important to remember that each of us plays a role in the exposure of these works.
While some books may be banned from certain school districts, most are available at public libraries or online bookstores. By reading these books ourselves and engaging in conversations about them with young people in our lives, we can help to ensure that their knowledge isn’t limited by what they’re taught in the classroom.
It’s important not to let censorship stop us from learning and growing, as sharing the stories of these works is essential for forming a better understanding of our world and learning from global history.