What Percentage of the Library Collection Is Being Challenged?
The proportion of library collections being challenged is not as high as you think.
With stories of book bans on the rise, many regular librarygoers, especially those with small children, are becoming increasingly concerned about the content that’s readily available in their local libraries. While some book bans may have ulterior motives behind them, the sheer volume means that at least a fair chunk of the contested books aren’t appropriate for kids, right? Fortunately, the issue isn’t nearly as widespread as you’d be led to believe. Let’s take a look at some of the hard data, as well as the phenomena that are making the issue appear as inflated as it is.
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First of all, let’s answer the obvious question: Just how many books are being contested to begin with? A study performed by PEN America shows that in the first half of the 2022–23 academic year, roughly 874 unique titles were banned.
While this may seem like an alarming number, it’s also worth considering that this is only a small fraction of most libraries’ collections. For example, the public library with the most holdings in the US, New York Public Library, had 25,271,223 materials in its collection as of fiscal year 2016.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that a large portion of the titles banned cover similar topics like race (30 percent of banned titles), gender, and sexuality (26 percent of banned titles).
Though the number of banned books is certainly rising, it doesn’t indicate a higher amount of explicit content librarygoers could be exposed to; rather, it shows a heightened concern among state politicians that certain titles are too controversial for public shelves. So, why exactly does it seem like there are so many more cases of bans than there actually are?
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Simply put, it mostly owes to a psychological effect known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or frequency bias. Because many of the books being banned cover hot-button issues of today, news of their banning often makes it to the news media. From there, we see the article and begin noticing more and more similar stories appear alongside it.
This then plays into a phenomenon known as selection bias, in which the portion of the population we see and form opinions on inaccurately represents the population as a whole. After all, for all the news stories that have appeared about books being banned, there aren’t nearly as many, if any, stories about the books that weren’t.
So, do you need to be careful when you bring your kids to the library? Not any more than usual. While there are plenty of books that cover darker themes that kids might not yet be ready for, they aren’t packing the shelves from end to end. The library has always been a space for people of all ages to read, and it always will be.
If you’d like to learn more about the recent book bans and how they’re affecting libraries, feel free to visit us at the EveryLibrary blog!
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