Public schools need to put a stop to book bans

Book bans fueled by parent outcry target and censor diverse novels focused on important issues such as race, gender and sexuality in school libraries


Graphic made by Addison D.

To commemorate banned book week from Sep. 26 – Oct. 2, schools across the US set up displays of commonly restricted books in libraries. In 2020 alone, the American Library Association reported that 273 books faced censorship challenges from parents. “I think the way school libraries are supposed to be set up is that they represent all students,” North Lake Middle School Librarian Erin Burleigh said.


The last few years in the US have seen a substantial increase in book bans and book challenges in schools. From September of 2020 to September of 2021, the American Library Association estimates a 67% increase in book challenges. Book bans are also rarely communicated to the public, and target novels about race, gender, and sexuality, mentally harming students whose personal experiences are represented in restricted books. Banning titles also restricts a student’s exposure towards classical literature in school libraries.

Visual representation of where challenges for book bans take place; statistics compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom and presented by the American Library Association from 2020. (Graphic made by Addison D.)

50% of book challenges are made by parents in an attempt to control and restrict what students read in schools and often are backed by groups like “No Left Turn in Education,” or “Moms for Liberty.” 38% of book challenges take place in schools, and 15% of book challenges occur in school libraries.

George, a story about a young transgender girl struggling to be herself in the world, is commonly challenged and banned in school libraries for LGBTQ+ content, inappropriate language, and religious conflict within the novel.

The Hate U Give, the story of a young Black girl finding her voice and standing against racial injustice after watching her friend murdered by the police, is commonly challenged and banned in school libraries for profanity and anti-police messages.

Speak, a story about a girl who was sexually assaulted and is fighting back against the hypocrisy of not being heard when she tries to stand up for herself, has been challenged and banned for bias against male students, profanity and sexual assault. These are only a snapshot of controversial titles most popularly challenged in 2020.

Book bans also target classic novels, like The Catcher in the Rye, and The Lord of the Flies. Even Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is another targeted novel in schools. Bradbury’s dystopian novel set in the future portrays a society where books are outlawed and burned by “firemen” in an attempt to keep peace between the people.

Classic books like these are necessary for students because they deal with difficult topics and are discussion starters for students to learn more about the world, as well as its history and future.

The most pressing issue with book bans targeting diverse novels is limiting student representation. Restricting access to these books undermines the ability of students to read about and see a light shined on their struggles and experiences. Book bans also limit student exposure to real world issues and struggles.

Visual representation of who initiates challenges for book bans in libraries, statistics compiled by the Office for Intellectual Freedom and presented by the American Library Association from 2020. (Graphic made by Addison D.)

“When we start getting into book bans, the problem with that is we’re then limiting some of the voices, or we’re limiting how many students see themselves in books in our libraries. And we’re making decisions for them, for the students,” North Lake librarian Erin Burleigh said. “A good library is where everybody can go and everyone feels represented, right? And a good library is one where everyone can go and find something on the topic they’re interested in. So when we start banning books, or banning subject areas that kids feel really connected to, we’re really limiting what’s available to them.”

Book bans also violate the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights, which promise things like intellectual freedom to library patrons, not only students in school. Burleigh, implemented a new overdue book policy to protect Right VII of students:

“Right VII: All people, regardless of origin, age, background, or views, possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information.”

Overdue notices are first sent to the students and are not shared with parents/students unless they would need to be included. If parents need to be included, students are notified ahead of time and have the option to check books back in before information is shared and TAs, teacher assistants, also no longer check out books at the library to protect student privacy. Right VII is protected regardless of age, or any part of a user’s identity.

Other rights include:

“Right I: Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.”

Library collections need to be diverse, and fulfill the educational needs of its patrons. When weeding out books, as well, librarians need to use unbiased judgment and data when deciding to pull a novel.

“Weeding” refers to when a library removes outdated novels from the shelves in order to make room for newer and more relevant material. The decision to pull novels is also decided by the number of check-outs.

“Right III: Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.”

Libraries need to challenge censorship and challenge requests to ban books to the best of their ability, to keep a diverse range of novels and information to patrons. Even if a librarian disagrees or agrees with the challenge request, steps need to be taken in order to determine whether the challenged material needs to be removed or not.

Some popular novels, like To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, or Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, feature controversial content such as stereotyping and use of slurs that negatively impact students.

Books like these should not be required for curriculum in schools, but still need to be readily available in libraries. Students need to be able to have the option to select what they read from a wide range of options and topics. Taking away books undermines students’ ability to learn for themselves, form opinions and broaden their views on the world.

Books in libraries are also already selected according to the grade levels of the school, and novels are already reviewed before being purchased for the shelves, for appropriateness, and content.

“The general rule is to find at least two scholarly sources that have reviewed the book as being for the appropriate age level. It can be tricky with non-fiction because often the purpose is to inform on a specific topic instead of writing to a specific audience. In those cases I preview the content, check if it’s won awards, sometimes I’ll read these books, read reviews, ask my librarian colleagues, etc. Basically some form of research happens for every book that is purchased,” Cavelero librarian Hanna Hermes said.

At the Cavelero Mid-High Library, Hermes mentioned students make 1-2 book requests per day, and more people are reading more now than before. Books are also bought based on current trending novels, new books by popular authors and award winner novels. Cavelero’s library collection includes both middle and high school level books. There haven’t been any book bans in Lake Stevens school libraries as of 2022.

But in case the situation were ever to arise, school districts need to have policies in place with procedures on dealing with challenged materials Those challenging a novel also need to be required to read the book itself, and form a full idea of the topics presented in the novel and the story. Without reading a material before challenging and banning it, an unbiased and educated decision can’t be made.

Lake Stevens School District is currently in the process of the creation of this policy, so the situation like Cedar Heights Middle School in January of 2022 would be properly dealt with in an organized manner.

The librarian at Cedar Heights was sent an email by their principal demanding all “sexuaully explicit” material be removed from the library. This notably included novels focused on LGBTQ characters, “Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts),” by LC Rosen, “If I Was Your Girl,” by Meredith Russo and “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson. The principal also had stated in her email that she had the right to pull books from the shelves at any time, and she would be checking every book to be purchased for the library

Banning books from shelves should never be the choice, because only students themselves know what they’re comfortable with reading. Libraries are meant to be a place for students to learn and choose from a diverse range of novels, and they can’t have the option to choose if novels are pulled from shelves.

What’s too mature for one student might not be for another. What one student might want to read about, another student might not. As librarian Jo Godwin once said, “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”