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Virginia part of national uptick in attempts to ban or censor books

Books!
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Nationwide there was an unprecedented effort in the year 2021 to censor and ban books from public and school libraries and Virginia was not immune to that. That’s according to the American Library Association’s annual report, issued this week.

The ALA collects tips from librarians, educators and reporters around the country. In 2021 they received more than 700 reports of censorship efforts, representing almost 1,600 targeted books. 30 of the censorship complaints came from Virginia.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, says the numbers are extraordinary.

“Multiple challenges reported every day, when we might have in the past received one or two challenge reports in an entire week,” she said in an interview this week.

Many of the targets are books detailing racism or featuring LGBTQ characters and storylines. Caldwell-Stone says the increase comes amidst organized campaigns over social media and at school board meetings.

“We have seen some of these advocacy groups describe books as innocuous as ‘Heather Has Two Mommies’ as sexually explicit because it deals with sexual identity and families headed by same sex parents,” she says.

The numbers are from 2021, and Virginia state law is set to change early next year – requiring school districts inform parents of any sexually explicit material used in the classrooms. The effect of the law remains to be seen, but Caldwell-Stone predicts it will worsen the situation.

“It opens up the door to a wealth of censorship claims and challenges to the practices of schools and will only make it harder for librarians and educators to meet the information needs of diverse communities in Virginia.”

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief. She's covered policy and politics from the state capital since 2016. She was a 2020-2021 recipient of the Fulbright Young Journalist Award. She spent a year in Munich, Germany researching memory, justice, and how a society can collectively confront its sins. Her Virginia-based coverage of home healthcare workers, voting rights, and Richmond’s Slave Trail have won national news awards.