Should some books be banned?

The American Library Association (ALA) has tracked book challenges, which are attempts to remove or restrict materials, since 1990. Last year, the ALA recorded 323 reported book challenges in the United States, a 17% increase from the 275 reported challenges in 2015. In most years, about 10% of the reported challenges result in removal or ban from the school or library. However, in 2016, five of the top ten most challenged books were removed. The ALA estimates that only about 18% of challenges are reported to its Office for Intellectual Freedom, meaning that the actual number of attempts to ban books is likely much higher.

Challenges are most frequently brought by parents (42%), followed by patrons (31%), a board or administration (10%), librarians or teachers (8%), political and religious groups (2%), the government (2%), and others (5%). Books are most often challenged at public libraries (49%), schools (30%), school libraries (20%), and special libraries (1%).

Sexually explicit content, offensive language, and “unsuited to any age group” are the top three reasons cited for requesting a book be removed.

The percentage of Americans who think any books should be banned increased from 18% in 2011 to 28% in 2015 and 60% of people surveyed believed that children should not have access to books containing explicit language in school libraries, according to The Harris Poll.

People who believe that parents and other adults should be able to remove or ban books from libraries argue that they have the right to decide what material their children are exposed to and when; that children should not be exposed to sex, violence, drug use, or other inappropriate topics in school or public libraries; and that keeping books with inappropriate content out of libraries protects kids but doesn’t stop people for reading those books or prevent authors from writing them. People who believe that no one should be able to ban or remove books from libraries argue that parents may control what their own children read, but don’t have a right to restrict what books are available to other people; that frequently challenged books to help people get a better idea of the world and their place in it; and that books are a portal to different life experiences and reading encourages empathy and social-emotional development.

Among the pros of having the authority over the kind of books your child reads, the first is: parents have the right to decide what material their children are exposed to and when. Having books with adult topics available in libraries limits parents’ ability to choose when their children are mature enough to read the specific material. “Literary works containing explicit sex, oral sex, explicit & violent descriptions of rape, vulgar and obscene language” were on the approved reading list for grades 7-12, according to Speak up for Standards, a group seeking age-appropriate reading materials for students in Dallas, Texas. If books with inappropriate material are available in libraries, children or teens can be exposed to books their parents wouldn’t approve of before the parents even find out what their children are reading. “[O]pting your child out of reading [a certain] book doesn’t protect him or her. They are still surrounded by the other students who are going to be saturated with this book,” said writer Macey France.

Children should not be exposed to sex, violence, drug use, or other inappropriate topics in school or public libraries. 

Books in the young adult genre often contain adult themes that young people aren’t ready to experience. Of the top ten most challenged books in 2016, six were sexually explicit and five had LGBT content. According to Jenni White, a former public school science teacher,

“Numerous studies on the use of graphic material by students indicate negative psychological effects,” including having “more casual sex partners and [beginning] having sex at younger ages.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that exposure to violence in media, including in books, can impact kids by making them act aggressively and desensitizing them to violence. Kim Heinecke, a mother of four, wrote to her local Superintendent of Public Schools that “It is not a matter of ‘sheltering’ kids. It is a matter of guiding them toward what is best. We are the adults. It is our job to protect them – no matter how unpopular that may seem.”

Keeping books with inappropriate content out of libraries protects kids, but doesn’t stop people from reading those books or prevent authors from writing them. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council noted that removing certain books from libraries is about showing discretion and respecting a community’s values, and doesn’t prevent people from getting those books elsewhere:

“It’s an exaggeration to refer to this as book banning. There is nothing preventing books from being written or sold, nothing to prevent parents from buying it or children from reading it.” What some call “book banning,” many see as making responsible choices about what books are available in public and school libraries. “Is it censorship that you’re unable to go to your local taxpayer-funded branch and check out a copy of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’? For better or for worse, these books are still widely available. Your local community has simply decided that finite public resources are not going to be spent disseminating them,”

Weekly Standard writer and school board member Mark Hemingway stated.

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