CHICAGO, September 20, 2022 – Access to books that represent a variety of cultures and viewpoints may boost a student’s development and well-being, according to a white paper from Unite Against Book Bans, an initiative of the American Library Association and several dozen national partners. The paper, “Empowered by Reading: The Benefits of Giving Youth Access to a Wide Variety of Reading Materials,” kicks off Banned Books Week (September 18-24, 2022) to inform the public and policymakers of the threat that book challenges and bans pose to America’s education system and its communities.
Examining research conducted by experts in literacy, education, child development, and related fields, the paper underscores the benefits of providing children and youth with a wide variety of developmentally-appropriate reading materials, such as improvements in critical thinking skills and reading comprehension, as well as enhanced understanding and empathy.
“The proof is in the data: children are more likely to have a more productive learning experience and thrive in the classroom, throughout the school and in their communities when they see themselves represented in curriculum and library materials,” said Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada, President of the American Library Association. “Books that accurately depict different backgrounds serve as tools that help youth develop empathy for people from different walks of life.”
Among the research noted, a 2018 study from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found 1% of books depicted American Indian/First Nations characters, 5% portrayed Latino characters, 7% Asian Pacific Islander/Asian Pacific American, 10% African/African American, while 50% depicted White characters. Additionally, GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey shows that access to inclusive learning resources makes LGBTQ+ students feel safer and reduces bullying in schools.
Last week, the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom released preliminary data on attempts to remove books in 2022. Between January 1 and August 31, 2022, the office tracked 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, and 1,651 unique titles were targeted. Eight months into the year, censorship efforts are on track to far exceed the record number of challenges in 2021. These challenges represent continued escalation in the coordinated efforts to silence some stories.
In response to the surge in book challenges and other efforts to suppress access to information, the ALA launched Unite Against Book Bans, a national initiative focused on empowering readers everywhere to stand together in the fight against censorship.
“Communities must look at the whole picture and take our youth’s development and overall well-being into account before removing access to books and resources,” said Pelayo-Lozada. “The attacks on our schools and libraries are dividing our nation’s communities and severely harming our youth along the way.”