Yesterday marked the start of Banned Books Week, an annual event created by the American Library Association (ALA) to highlight the importance of free and open access to information.

In light of recent events, this year’s occasion carries a lot more weight than usual. Book challenges are nothing new, but in the time following the pandemic, there’s been an unprecedented rise in the number of attempted bans in libraries and schools. In 2022, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 1,269 book challenges in the United States, the highest number they’ve ever recorded.

This concerning trend has continued well into 2023, with more ban attempts making national news each month. And the severity of the challenges has increased, too. Traditionally, book bans usually targeted only individual books. Now, entire school library systems are under fire. Several U.S. state governments have introduced legislation that could make distributing materials considered obscene—the definition of which is often unclear—to minors illegal and subject to criminal prosecution. Some of those laws have already passed.

In the spirit of Banned Books Week, let’s take a look at some of the latest book challenges, ban attempts, and new legislation affecting schools and libraries across America.


Act 372 was a law signed by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders on March 31, 2023. Under the act, librarians and book vendors would have been held criminally liable for giving children access to material deemed “harmful to minors.” If guilty, offenders could face up to a year in prison.

After the law’s introduction, multiple parties, including the Arkansas Library Association and several library systems across the state, filed a federal lawsuit to challenge Act 372, which they described as unconstitutional. On July 29, 2023, U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks of the Western District of Arkansas temporarily blocked parts of the law. He claimed the law’s definition of “appropriateness” was too vague and would be too challenging to enforce without censoring constitutionally protected speech. The final outcome of the lawsuit is still pending.


On September 25, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1078 into law, becoming the second state in the country to officially stop book bans (the first being Illinois, which is mentioned below).

AB 1078, or the “Safe Place to Learn Act,” effectively prohibits school boards in the state from banning books, instructional materials, or curricula labeled as diverse or inclusive. Because of an urgency clause, AB 1078 went into effect immediately after it was signed.


Educators in Florida are facing a number of challenges after Governor Ron DeSantis signed a series of bills into law in 2022.

The first, House Bill 1557, is sometimes called the “Parental Rights in Education” or “Don’t Say Gay” law. Part of the bill prohibits the discussion or instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade or in ways that go against state standards in any grade.

House Bill 7, known as the “Stop Woke Act,” is described as an anti-discriminatory bill. This law declares that educational institutions within the state may not subject students or employees to any instruction that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels” them to believe anything that falls under eight concepts, the majority of which deal with discrimination, oppression, or moral superiority based on race, color, sex, or national origin.

House Bill 1467 requires public school districts to be transparent in the selection of instructional materials. This includes any reading material or library books. Schools in the state must now adhere to several rules, including:

  • District school boards are responsible for the content of all instructional materials.
  • School boards must adopt a formal policy for handling parents’ or community members’ objections to instructional material.
  • Book review committee meetings must be open to the public.
  • School librarians, media specialists, and others involved in selecting reading materials must complete a training program before they can pick books.
  • Materials in a school library or assigned school- or grade-level reading list can be selected only by a certified educational media specialist.
  • Elementary schools must publish online lists of all materials available to students.

HB 1557, HB 7, and HB 1467 all went into effect on July 1, 2022.

In October 2022, the Florida Board of Education added new rules to HB 1557, HB 7, and HB 1467. If teachers are found to be in violation of HB 1557 or HB 7, their teaching licenses may be suspended or revoked. In addition, HB 1467 now applies not only to curriculum materials and school libraries, but also the personal classroom libraries put together by teachers. In other words, teachers now have to catalog every book in their classroom libraries in a searchable online database.

In response to these laws, multiple Florida school districts have pulled books with potentially questionable content from libraries and reading lists ahead of possible book challenges. A significant number of the books discuss race, include LGBTQ+ themes, depict any sexual content, or are written by authors from marginalized communities.


Georgia Senate Bill 226, signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp last year, went into effect on January 1, 2023. This law outlines a formal process to remove books and other content considered “harmful to minors” from public schools. However, unlike laws in other states that let anyone submit a complaint, SB 226 clarifies that only parents of current students may challenge books.


A new Illinois law is taking a hard stance against challenges and censorship concerns by banning book bans altogether. Signed into law by Governor J. B. Pritzker on June 12, 2023, House Bill 2789 requires libraries in the state, including school libraries, to adopt the ALA's Library Bill of Rights. Under the rules, reading materials shouldn’t be removed or restricted because of partisan or personal disapproval. If a library doesn’t adopt the bill of rights, then they’re no longer eligible for state-funded grants. HB 2789 will take effect on January 1, 2024.


On May 26, 2023, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 496 into law. An educational “omnibus” bill, SF 496 introduced a plethora of new policies that proponents believe will give parents more control over what their child learns in school. Some of the highlights include:

  • A district’s library program must “support the student achievement goals of the total school curriculum” and contain only age-appropriate materials. Books with written and visual depictions of sex acts (as defined in Iowa Code section 702.17) are banned from school libraries. Religious texts like the Bible, Qur’an, and Torah are exempt.
  • Districts can’t provide any curriculum, program, survey, material, activity, announcement, or materials relating to gender identity or sexual activity to students in grades K-6. This includes library books.
  • School districts must provide a policy that allows parents or guardians of a student in the district and residents of the district to review instructional materials. Parents should also have a way to opt their child out of receiving certain materials.
  • School districts must publish their entire library catalog online for public access.
  • Students aren't allowed to be on reconsideration or review committees about the removal of library books.

In late September, some Des Moines-area school districts began posting disclaimers on “little free libraries” located on school grounds. Little free libraries are standalone outdoor displays in which the public can share books without cost. The disclaimers state that these little libraries aren’t funded, sponsored, endorsed, or maintained by the school district; therefore, the school district is complying with the new law and isn't responsible for the little libraries' contents.


Following in the footsteps of Illinois, Pennsylvania State Senator Amanda Cappelletti announced that during the next legislative session, she will introduce a new bill to stop book bans. Like the Illinois counterpart, this bill would require Pennsylvania libraries to adopt the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights. If they don’t comply, they will lose state funding.


On July 1, 2023, Tennessee’s controversial Senate Bill 1059 went into effect. This bill declares it unlawful for book publishers, distributors, or sellers to knowingly sell or distribute obscene matter to public schools that serve any of the grades K-12. Offenders could be charged with Class E felonies, which carry one to six years in prison and fines between $10,000 and $100,000.

Under Tennessee law, a work is considered “obscene” if:

  1. The average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest
  2. The average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct
  3. The work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Opponents of the bill believe the definition of “obscene” is too broad; one person’s opinion on offensive material may not reflect that of the entire community. Ultimately, district attorneys in the state are responsible for deciding if any questionable material brought to them meets that definition.


Texas House Bill 900, or the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources (READER) Act, aimed to establish new standards and ratings for sexually explicit material in school libraries, with the intention of banning certain books from public and charter schools. In addition, this bill would require book vendors to rate books for sexual content. Those rated “sexually explicit” would be banned from schools. Even if a vendor issued a rating, the state would have the power to change it. If vendors chose not to participate in the rating system, they couldn’t sell any books to Texas schools.

The law was supposed to take effect on September 1, 2023, but was put on hold after a coalition of authors, booksellers, and publishers sued the state. The lawsuit explained that the bill violated First Amendment rights on free speech, as it “compels plaintiffs to express the government's views, even if they do not agree.” On September 18, 2023, federal judge Alan D. Albright ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and blocked the bill from taking effect. He noted that the law was “prohibitively expensive” for vendors and ultimately unconstitutional.

The state appealed the decision, and on September 25, 2023, a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an administrative stay, allowing the law to go into effect. The panel didn’t give an explanation or ruling on whether the law violates constitutional free speech rights.


In 2022, the state of Virginia added a new law to its existing educational legislature. Senate Bill 656 requires school boards to create policies for notifying parents of any instructional material that contains sexually explicit content as defined by the state. Parents should be allowed to review the material and decide if it’s appropriate for their student. If not, schools must provide alternative material and related activities per parent request.

Some Virginian school boards are taking the law further and creating additional policies that make it easier to request the removal of certain titles from school libraries and classrooms. As a result, several books are no longer available at some schools, including 14 titles in Spotsylvania County and 17 titles in Hanover County.

Handling Book Challenges and Bans

The incidents mentioned in this blog post represent only a fraction of book banning attempts happening nationwide. Based on current trends, it’s safe to say book challenges and ban attempts will continue to be a problem for schools and libraries in the near future. Whether you agree with the reasons behind the bans or not, it’s important to stay aware of what’s happening.

What should you do in case one impacts your school? Our quick guide outlines practical ways for handling book challenges should one affect your school or district.

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Information in this article is up-to-date as of October 1, 2023.