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Why has there been a sharp uptick in requests to remove books from library shelves?

The American Library Association said the uptick began late last year

ATLANTA — The number of requests to remove books from library shelves across the U.S. has sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic

A recent decision from Forsyth County School System to remove eight books from their school's libraries is part of that trend that started late last year. 

According to the American Library Association, the most challenged books over the past 30 years include 'Harry Potter,' 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and the animated children’s series 'Captain Underpants.' 

Books that are wildly popular to some are to others too controversial to remain on a library bookshelf.

The Association’s Deborah Cauldwell-Stone said her group keeps track of book challenges in school and public libraries and that the past several months have seen a surprising uptick.

“I've worked for this office for 20 years, and I've never seen reports sent to this office and the numbers that we've been seeing for roughly the last four or five months,” Cauldwell-Stone said.

Stone said while the average year sees about 300 book challenges, there were nearly 500 during the last four months of 2021.

Credit: WXIA

But not every challenge leads to a book’s removal from a library shelf.

Cauldwell-Stone said parents have become more organized and use social media to voice their objections about certain books.

“People can amplify their complaint about a book via Facebook or Twitter, and that goes viral,” Cauldwell-Stone said. “So we'll see copycat challenges.”

An Emory Law Professor, Alexander Volokh, said books tend to be challenged due to their subject matter being tied to controversial political topics.

“It's very visible because the media picks it up because they rightly know that in this political climate, people eat up stories like that,”  Volokh said. “Attention creates its own attention begets its own attention.”

While schools were virtual and public libraries closed in 2020, Cauldwell-Stone said there were less than 200 reports of book challenges. 

“With the pandemic, parents did more homeschooling are more aware of their children's assignments and their reading,” Cauldwell-Stone said.


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