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Celebrate Banned Books Week 2023: Let Freedom Read

Every September, we observe Banned Books Week to celebrate our freedom to read and spotlight current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. For over 40 years, Banned Books Week has brought together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

In a time of intense political polarization, library staff in every state are facing an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books. In 2022, ALA documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021. Of the record 2,571 unique titles targeted for censorship, the most challenged and reasons cited for censoring the books are listed below.

Most of the targeted books were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color.

The theme for Banned Books Week 2023 is “Let Freedom Read.” When we ban books, we’re closing off readers to people, places, and perspectives. But when we stand up for stories, we unleash the power that lies inside every book. We liberate the array of voices that need to be heard and the scenes that need to be seen. Let freedom read!

Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2022:

1. Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images

2. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

3The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Reasons: Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit

4. Flamer by Mike Curato

Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and claims of being sexually explicit

5. Looking for Alaska by John Green (tie)

Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and claims to be sexually explicit

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (tie)

Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, claims to be sexually explicit, and for depicting rape, drugs, and profanity

7Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison 

Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

8The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term

9Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit

10. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (tie)

Reasons: Banned & challenged for claims of being sexually explicit

10. Crank by Ellen Hopkins (tie)

Reasons: Banned and challenged for claims of being sexually explicit and depicting drug use

10Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews (tie)

Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit, degrading to women, and use of profanity

10. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson (tie)

Reasons: Banned, challenged, relocated, and restricted for providing sexual education and LGBTQIA+ content

Other Frequently Banned or Challenged Books:

What is Banned Books Week?

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in book challenges. It is usually held the last week of September to celebrate the importance of free and open access to information. It started in the United States and has been celebrated at libraries, schools, theaters, bookstores, and other locations around the country. There’s now a celebration of the right to read in the United Kingdom, and Banned Books Week events happen around the world.

Why are books challenged?

Materials are usually challenged with the best of intentions, often motivated by a desire to protect younger readers from “inappropriate” content. Books are challenged over sexual content, profanity, age appropriateness, violence, religious viewpoint, LGBTQ+ content, political bias, drug and alcohol use, suicide, and much more.

What is a challenge? What is a ban?

Book bans generally start with a challenge –– a verbal or formal written attempt to restrict access to materials or to remove them entirely. A ban happens when those materials are actually removed from shelves, classrooms, or performance spaces.

Who challenges and bans books?

Most challenges come from library patrons and parents, who raise concerns over content they find objectionable. Sometimes, a library or school staffer or administrator will bring a challenge. Politicians, political organizations, and religious groups have also targeted books, comics, plays, and more. On a few occasions, students have brought complaints to administrators.

The ultimate arbitrator of the challenge depends on the policies of the institution where a book is challenged. Many schools and libraries have a challenge policy that starts with a written complaint, which results in a review committee being convened to read and consider the material being challenged. Institutions without a thoughtful reconsideration protocol are far more likely to ban materials.


What is the New Orleans Public Library’s position on banning books?

As a rule, the Library does not ban books. We believe in intellectual freedoms and are committed to building a collection for all –– one that is free from censorship, regardless of individual beliefs.

The New Orleans Public Library endorses the principles of the Freedom to Read Statement, the Freedom to View Statement, and the Library Bill of Rights adopted by the American Library Association.

As proclaimed in the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, freedom of expression, specifically the right to publish diverse opinions, is essential to the democratic form of government. A public institution committed to the principles of democracy and intellectual freedom, the Library recognizes its obligation to provide as wide a spectrum of materials as possible.

Diverse points of view, including controversial and unorthodox subjects, are available in this collection. Inclusion in the collection does not imply Library approval of or agreement with the contents.

Library materials are not marked or identified to show approval or disapproval of the contents, nor are materials sequestered except for the purpose of protecting them from damage or theft.

No restrictions are placed on what anyone may read, view, or listen to. Selection of materials to include in the collection will not be made on the basis of any anticipated approval or disapproval, but solely on the merits of the material in relation to building the collection and to serving the needs and the interests of all users.

Individuals or groups may occasionally question the inclusion of an item in the collection because of fear or doubt about the effects of the material on impressionable persons. Although the Library understands this concern, it is the Library’s position that the risk to society is far greater if public access to ideas and information is restricted. While anyone is free to select or reject materials for themselves or their own minor children or wards, the values of one will not be imposed on the many. Parents and legal guardians have the responsibility for their child’s or ward’s use of Library materials.

The Library is opposed to the removal from its shelves, at the request of any individual or group, materials which have been chosen according to the materials selection policy.

Reporting Censorship:

Censorship thrives in ignorance. The best way to prevent it is to make sure that free expression ad- vocates know it’s happening. Several members of the Banned Books Week Coalition are prepared to take direct action to fight censorship. Use the following contact information to let them know when books, comics, plays, art, and journalism are under threat.

Writing Tips to Survive NaNoWriMo 

November is here, and that means NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. The New Orleans Public Library is hosting workshops throughout the month to connect you with other local writers to share thoughts, struggles, successes, and writing tips.

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