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Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries.

Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings 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.

2021's Most Challenged Books

The American Library Association's (ALA) Most Challenged Books list tracks attempts to ban or restrict access to books across the United States and raises awareness of censorship efforts in our libraries and schools.

By the Numbers

Attempts to censor or ban books soared sky-high in 2021 — to their highest numbers in decades. The ALA annually publishes the number of attempts to remove materials from public libraries, school libraries, or university libraries.1

YearNumber of book challenges

Important Subjects Are Stifled

Some of the most common topics that are challenged include:

  • LGBTQIA+ content
  • Discussion/description of sexual acts
  • Presenting an anti-police viewpoint
  • Promoting a particular religious viewpoint
  • Course or vulgar language
  • Racist material

Censorship Decreases Trust

These challenges against and mistrust in information aren't limited to books. Trust in many sources that have traditionally been viewed as reliable is declining.

  • Gallup reports that only about 40% of Americans have any level of trust in mass media, with Democrats being far more trusting than Republicans.2
  • Pew reports that only about 24% of Americans trust government officials in Washington to “do the right thing.”3
  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that only 52% of Americans have a “Great Deal of Trust” in the CDC.4
  • The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer found that trust in Big Tech had fallen to 57% amongst Americans, while trust in news and general information sources had reached an all time low.5, pg. 27

Politics Where They Don't Belong

Political polarization is the most cited factor driving this growing mistrust and need to silence, or “cancel,” opposing viewpoints.

  • While it’s not clear if we’re more divided now than ever before along ideological lines, it can’t be denied that we’re widely divided, with 92% of Republicans falling to the “right” of the median, and 94% of Democrats falling to the “left” of the median.6
  • Not only is this division clear in political matters, Pew Research Center found that it’s now extending to non-political issues, including the economy, social justice, and even “basic facts.”7
  • Trust in public libraries, however, remains steadily high at 78%, as Pew reported in 2017 — most adults trust public libraries to direct them to factual, unbiased information.8

Banned Books That Shaped America

The Library of Congress created an exhibit which explores books that "have had a profound effect on American life." This is a list of books from that exhibit that have been banned and/or challenged.

Banned Children's Favorites

Blog Feature from Tennessee Library Association

In 2021, our very own Systems Librarian Bryan Jones was part of Tennessee Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee. He and some of the committee members put together a blog post of their favorite banned and/or controversial reading recommendations.