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Study finds book bans target diverse authors and characters

Books facing outward on a library shelf
Jessica Ruscello
The study found books facing challenges in 2021 and 2022 were nearly five times more likely to be written by authors of color than white authors.

Schools and libraries are seeing unprecedented attempts to pull books, deemed controversial by some, off the shelves. A new study finds those books are often about—and written by—people from underrepresented groups.

Katie Spoon, a University of Colorado Boulder PhD student and co-author of the study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nexus, categorized the more than 2,000 books restricted in schools and libraries in 2021 and 2022.

"We noticed that most of the books were children's books about diverse characters," Spoon said.

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Young adult LGBTQ+ romance novels made up about 10% of the restricted books. The analysis also found books facing challenges were nearly five times more likely to be written by authors of color than white authors. About a quarter of the authors of the banned books were women of color, who were more likely to write children's books about diverse characters.

This aligns with data from the American Library Association showing half of books targeted for bans in 2023 were about or written by LGBTQ+ individuals or people of color. In the Mountain West, Idaho, Utah and Colorado all saw more than 100 books contested for removal or restrictions last year, by far the highest in the region.

The CU Boulder research also revealed counties with book bans were not necessarily the most conservative. Instead, areas that had lost conservative ground in the past two decades were more likely to have bans.

"Which, to us, makes it seem like there's some political motivation in addition to censorship motivation," Spoon said.

This year, some states in the Mountain West have passed laws making it easier to restrict access to books. In Idaho, libraries can now face lawsuits if they don't limit children's access to "obscene or harmful material." Utah could order some books banned statewide in public schools before the new school year. On the other hand, Colorado passed a law aiming to insulate libraries from attempts to remove books.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio (KNPR) in Las Vegas, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Rachel Cohen is the Mountain West News Bureau reporter for KUNC. She covers topics most important to the Western region. She spent five years at Boise State Public Radio, where she reported from Twin Falls and the Sun Valley area, and shared stories about the environment and public health.