With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

‘We’re Preparing For a Long Battle.’ Librarians Grapple With Conservatives’ Latest Efforts to Ban Books

On Nov. 8, two members of a Virginia school board called for a book burning.

During a board meeting that evening, the Spotsylvania County Public School Board unanimously ordered its school libraries to begin removing “sexually explicit” books, after a concerned parent raised concerns about titles available via a library app.

As the Free Lance-Star reported on Nov. 9:

Two board members, Courtland representative Rabih Abuismail and Livingston representative Kirk Twigg, said they would like to see the removed books burned.

“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said, and Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”

While the school board is revisiting the decision after its attorney called it unconstitutional, the comments—and the fact that members tried to do such a review to begin with—are an extreme example of a trend that’s alarming librarians and free speech activists. (Abuismail and Twigg did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TIME.) Only a few months into the school year, librarians say efforts to ban books are on the rise and mark a new chapter in the history of attempts to censor books.

Since September, school libraries in at least seven states have removed books challenged by community members. Among the books most frequently targeted are Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto (2020), Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir (2019), Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy (2018), and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006). Most of the challenged books so far, across fiction and non-fiction, are about race and LGBTQ identities.

“We’re seeing an unprecedented volume of challenges,” says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Executive Director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “I’ve worked for ALA for 20 years, and I can’t recall a time when we had multiple challenges coming in on a daily basis.”


In 1981, TIME reported on a similar wave of attempts across the U.S. to ban books. At that time, the bans were both a reaction to “everything-goes New Permissiveness gusted forth in the 1960s,” as TIME’s Frank Trippett put it, and part of the rise of Evangelical fundamentalism and the Moral Majority political coalition emboldened by the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan as President. The magazine even covered a book burning in Drake, North Dakota which saw copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, James Dickey’s Deliverance, and an anthology of short stories featuring Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck and William Faulkner destroyed. “I would think moral-minded people might object to books that are philosophically alien to what they believe,” Rev. George A. Zarris, a Moral Majority leader in Illinois, told TIME in an interview. “If they have the books and feel like burning them, fine.”

Read entire article at TIME