SALEM, OR -- County and school libraries around Oregon reported a record number of challenges to the books they offer. According to a new report from the State Library of Oregon, 93 titles were challenged between July 2022 and June 2023, more than any year since data collection began in 1987 and beating the previous record of 70, set in 1993. "They are coming from all across the state; they are coming from all different types of libraries," says Buzzy Neilsen, with the State Library.
"What we tend to see the most of are books that are by or about LGBTQ+ folks, [or] books that are claimed to be sexually explicit; this is particularly common in teen books that may have sex scenes or even books that are about puberty or growing up," Nielsen tells KBND News. The vast majority of challenged titles were written by authors from under-represented groups, "Whether that be LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous, or people of color."
Nielsen says all libraries have a process for accepting and investigating complaints that a book is inappropriate, but not everyone goes through official channels, "We’re seeing a lot more people going around those designated processes, in which case, they’re taking their challenges straight to some kind of governing or administrative authority; It could be a school administrator, it could be going directly to a City Council or a library governing board. We’re also seeing people just going straight to the media." Or, he says, people try to remove the material themselves, "They aren’t even necessarily checked out; they’re just stolen, they are turned around or hidden somewhere in the library, or they’re thrown in the trash. We had incidents of all three of those things happen this year." Nielsen says in almost every challenged incident, the books remained available to the public.
Not all this year's complaints were about reading materials. There were also challenges to “Pride Month” displays and other programs, and in at least one case, a person objected to the library offering any services or materials in Spanish. And, Nielsen says, a new trend emerged in the past year, "We have untold number of library staff who have been called ‘pedophiles’ or ‘groomers,’ just like we have teachers who have been called the same. They’re was actually one or two situations where library staff received death threats."
Intellectual Freedom - the right of anyone to read, seek information and speak freely - is guaranteed by Oregon's Constitution and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Click HERE for the full report from the Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse.
Earlier this year, the American Library Association (ALA) reported that 2022 saw the most attempts to restrict library resources since they began collecting statistics at a national level. Per ALA, “The prevalent use of lists of books compiled by organized censorship groups contributed significantly to the skyrocketing number of challenges and the frequency with which each title was challenged.” National Banned Books Week is October 1-7.
Photo: The graphic novel "Flamer," by Mike Curato, was one of the most challenged materials in Oregon libraries this year.
Note: This story has been updated to reflect corrected stats from the State Library. A previous version noted there were 85 challenged titles. The Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse now says there were 93 titles challenged in 46 incidents.