2015 Frequently challenged books (Banned Book Week series #2)

Celebrate Banned Books Week

This is always a difficult count to make, because what gets challenged and/or banned may not get mentioned in the media or reported to the ALA for inclusion. Libraries may be embarrassed at getting a book challenge, or uncertain of a procedure they could follow to respond in a professional way. Ideally, this is a time to connect with community members, to talk about intellectual freedom, and supporting a parent’s right to individual choice – not choice for all. Tomorrow we will talk about strategies for writing your policy to handle challenges; today we will look at some of the most challenged material, to start thinking about conversations to have both within the library with our colleagues and also with the communities we serve.

From the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom:

Over this recent past decade, 5,099* challenges were reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

  • 1,577 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,291 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 989 challenges due to materials deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 619 challenged due to “violence”‘ and
  • 361 challenges due to “homosexuality.”

Further, 274 materials were challenged due to “occult” or “Satanic” themes, an additional 291 were challenged due to their “religious viewpoint,” and 119 because they were “anti-family.”

Please note that the number of challenges and the number of reasons for those challenges do not match, because works are often challenged on more than one ground.

1,639 of these challenges were in school libraries; 1,811 were in classrooms; 1,217 took place in public libraries. There were 114 challenges to materials used in college classes; and 30 to academic libraries. There are isolated cases of challenges to library materials made available in or by prisons, special libraries, community groups, and students. The vast majority of challenges were initiated by parents (2,535), with patrons and administrators to follow (516 and 489 respectively).

From the OIF’s page for Banned Book Week, here is a list of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2015: (links go to GoodReads, for more information about the book itself; go the the OIF page for specifics of the challenges for each title)

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  3. I Am Jazz by  Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  6. The Holy Bible (there are many different versions of this book; this is just one example)
  7. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
  8. Habibi by Craig Thompson
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by  Jeanette Winter
  10. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan


Thinking through your own strategies for responding to challenges, or in thinking about material that might be challenged, can be difficult. Know that there are resources available to help you as you write your library’s policy, and in handling challenges and collection development complexities. The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom is available to help you with challenges. CMLE is available to help you with policy creation and strategies for working through your ideas for challenges and effective collection development.