2020 will be memorable for its challenges — global, national, local, and personal. As we have in the face of challenges past, the library profession demonstrated its resilience and creativity to continue serving our communities in the face of the pandemic, social justice demonstrations, lockdowns and economic uncertainty, digital inequity, census advocacy, political polarization, and preparations for the national election.
Among these, there is another challenge we’ve faced down in the past and will continue to face in the future: book challenges. Censorship doesn’t take a sick day — and book ban and challenge statistics reported by the Office of Intellectual Freedom prove it.
But for the first time, our annual commemoration of the fight against book censorship and other content challenges went virtual-first. As our Banned Books Week observances shifted online, extraordinary efforts were brought to bear on keeping the freedom to read close to our hearts while our hearts were socially distanced.
Inspired by the Harper’s Index, and drawing on statistics and information compiled by Ellie Diaz, OIF’s intrepid manager of Banned Books Week, this post measures Banned Books Week 2020 by the numbers — and shows how intellectual freedom advocates made virtual-first count.
Banned Books Week 2020: How We Fight
- Total webinars in the GNCRT-IFRT Banned Books Week webinar series: 5
- Total panelists in the GNCRT-IFRT Banned Books Week webinar series: 17
- Total registrants for the GNCRT-IFRT Banned Books Week webinar series (reported by GNCRT): 399
- Total intellectual freedom heroes who Escape[d] the Dead End of Censorship!: 47
- Percentage increase in IFRTALA Facebook impressions during Banned Books Week1: 8%
- Percentage increase in IFRTALA Facebook engagements during Banned Books Week1: 12%
- Percentage increase in @IFRT_ALA Twitter engagements during Banned Books Week1: 267%
- Percentage increase in @IFRT_ALA Twitter impressions during Banned Books Week1: 535%
- Total IFRT members and guests who gathered for the Scary Stories Documentary watch party: 9
- Total tweets and retweets using the #CensorshipIsScary hashtag for the Scary Stories Documentary watch party1: 239
- Number of responses to the Scary Stories Documentary watch party Facebook event1: 2,200
- Unique tweets using the official #BannedBooksWeek hashtag during Banned Books Week1: 7,247
- Total tweets and retweets using the official #BannedBooksWeek hashtag during Banned Books Week1: 16,319
Banned Books Week 2020: Why We Fight
- Number of challenges to resources and services tracked by OIF in 2019: 377
- Number of unique book title challenges tracked by OIF in 2019: 566
- Number of non-book materials (artwork, displays, databases, events, speakers, games, music, handouts, etc.) affected by challenges tracked by OIF in 2019, reported by Kristin Pekoll in Knowledge Quest: 607
- Portion of books challenged for LGBTQIA+ content in the 2019 Top 10 Challenged list: 8 out of 10
- Portion of children’s and young adult books in the 2019 Top 10 Challenged list: 9 out of 10
- Number of Nobel laureates whose books have been banned2: 21
- US country ranking in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index: 45th
- Total number of unique book title challenges analyzed in the current edition of Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read2: 1,995
- Percentage of book bans and challenges that researchers estimate go unreported: 82-97%
- Estimated number of unreported book bans and challenges occurring each year2: 11,000
- Percentage of challenges issued by the government2: 2%
- Percentage of challenges issued by political and religious groups2: 2%
- Percentage of challenges issued by boards or administrations2: 10%
- Percentage of challenges issued by patrons2: 31%
- Percentage of challenges issued by parents2: 42%
- Average age of children of parents who initiate challenges2: 4-6 years and 14-16 years
- Percentage of challenges issued by teachers and librarians2: 8%
1Reported by OIF. 2Robert P. Doyle, Banned Books Week: Defending Our Freedom to Read, 2017.
Sarah Hartman-Caverly, MS(LIS), MSIS, is a reference and instruction librarian at Penn State Berks, where she liaises with Engineering, Business and Computing programs. Prior to her current appointment, Sarah was a reference and instruction librarian at a community college, and was an electronic resources manager and library system administrator in both community and small liberal arts college settings. Sarah’s research examines the compatibility of human and machine autonomy from the perspective of intellectual freedom. Recent contributions include “Version Control” (ACRL 2017), “Our ‘Special Obligation’: Library Assessment, Learning Analytics, and Intellectual Freedom” (ACRL 2018), and “Human Nature is Not a Machine: On Liberty, Attention Engineering, and Learning Analytics” (Library Trends, forthcoming). She earned her MS(LIS) and MSIS from Drexel University in 2011.