SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A record number of 2,571 unique book titles were challenged in 2022, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

In all, 58% targeted books and materials were in school libraries, classroom libraries or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries, according to the ALA.

Ashia Gustafson, the director of the Brookings Public Library said the library had one parent challenge this past year. In the rough years, she’s been at the library, she’s had two total concerns or challenges and in the 30 years prior to her, there were about six. That is not many, she said.

“Just this year, we had a concern from a parent for a graphic novel,” Gustafson said.

Those with challenges must complete a two-page form in which they include the section and pages of the material to be challenged. They are also asked to suggest a book or material that would offer a different view.

Those who challenge must read or listen to the entire book or material.

“(The patron) did not read the whole thing…,” Gustafson said. “They can’t just say they flipped through it and say, ‘I don’t like the picture on page 85.'”

The patron admitted they did not read the entire book but picked illustrations and parts they did not like, Gustafson said. The patron was concerned that the graphic novel showed bullying and siblings fighting, Gustafson said.

Had the patron read the entire novel they would have learned the book discusses conflict resolution between siblings, overcoming disagreements and sisterly love, said Nancy Swenson, the technology services librarian/programming supervisor at the Brookings Public Library.

Swenson also serves as chair of the intellectual freedom committee with the South Dakota Library Association (SDLA). Not all challenges to books at public libraries in the state but those that have been reported are “fairly wide ranging,” Swenson said.

“Some of it has been what people would deem as sexual content being too much for that age group,” Swenson said. “‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ has been challenged within the last year at a library in South Dakota.”

Some of the challenges are in the adult or young adult sections and concerns are content is too much for children, Swenson said.

South Dakota is starting to reflect the nation in terms of challenges of books about people of color or that include LGBTQ+ materials or characters or books written by members of those communities, Swenson said.

Brookings has had few challenges over the past roughly 40 years, Gustafson said.

But the challenges are increasing in the nation, according to Pen America, an international non-profit that supports literature and access to ideas and views and similar topics. The organization said in its opinion, research from 2022 show book challenges aren’t springing up from one parent or few concerned citizens. “Rather, they reflect the work of a growing number of advocacy organizations that have made demanding censorship of certain books and ideas in schools part of their mission,” Pen America said.

“The prevalent use of lists of books compiled by organized censorship groups contributed significantly to the skyrocketing number of challenges and the frequency with which each title was challenged,” the ALA said is part of why books are challenged.

South Dakota is well behind other states with challenged books, according to the ALA and Pen America. From July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, there were 1 to 10 challenges in the state. Texas had 751 to 1,000.

Words that are often associated with challenges of books include obscene, lewd, inappropriate sexual content.

“Anything taken out of context can be skewed to be lewd or undesirable or whatever you want it to be, if it’s taken out of context,” Gustafson said.

Swenson believes most parents or community members challenging books are sincere in their beliefs that the material is harmful. But it’s one thing to not want your own children to access it and a different thing to take away access for others, Swenson said.

Public librarians work hard to make sure overall library material reflects the community, they said.

Brookings may be very white but there is diversity and that diversity needs to be included in library material, Gustafson said.

Readers also need access to material that allows them to learn and experience topics such as immigration or life experiences of those who are different from them, the librarians said.

“Representation is important for everyone,” Gustafson said.

Paige Carda, the executive director of REACH Literacy which operates a used bookstore and literacy programs in Sioux Falls, said the organization tries to find books that represent the general population and those it works with. The books may be about people of color, different ethnicity and different cultures, she said.

On the heels of that record-breaking year, and a failed South Dakota Legislative bill to establish a statewide policy for the handling of public library materials deemed obscene or harmful to minors, a group appears to be organizing to address books in libraries.

A group called Patriot Ripple Effect is planning a Thursday meeting in Sioux Falls about “What’s in Your Child’s Library?” It advises potential attendees that because of the graphic nature, the meeting is for adults only.

The meeting is from 7 to 8 p.m. at Thunder Road Sioux Falls, according to the organization’s website. The event notice says people can hear, see and learn what they can do about it from people in the thick of it all.

KELOLAND News contacted a representative of Patriot Ripple Effect on Tuesday and Wednesday to learn more about the Thursday event but did not get a reply as of publication. The story will update this story if the representative responds.

A bill that failed in this year’s South Dakota legislative session sought a statewide policy on obscene or harmful materials.

Supporters of Republican Rep. Jon Hansen‘s failed House Bill 1163 said at a Feb. 8 House Education Committee a statewide policy was needed to prevent obscene or harmful materials in public schools or public libraries from reaching minors.

Opponents said at that Feb. 8 meeting said Hansen’s bill was not necessary since public libraries and public schools have policies to review library material and to handle complaints about material. 

The Brookings Public Library has a policy to determine the appropriate selection of books and materials for appropriate age levels. The policy is about three pages long. It’s approved by the Brookings Library Board of Trustees.

“It’s very specific on what we buy and why,” Gustafson said. It also outlines material must have certain reviews and how the library determines what reviews to use.

Swenson said material selection policies are very common at public libraries. It guides what is bought and even acceptance of what is donated.

“Libraries should be updating those policies regularly,” Swenson said.

Several school districts contacted for this story by KELOLAND News did not comment on the topic, but they do have policies that address challenges of books used in curriculum and books in school libraries.

“The Sioux Falls School District has used policy KEC/KEC-R twice during the 2022-2023 school year for the reconsideration of library materials,” district communications director DeeAnn Konrad said in an email to KELOLAND. “The recommendation of the committee and the school board’s action is reflected in the school board minutes. Both requests were not to remove the book but to limit access to the books; families can restrict their child’s access to library books by completing the form on the SFSD Library webpage.”

“Schools are more vulnerable (to challenges),” Gustafson said. Schools are selecting books for children to read as part of instruction as well as for the library, she said.

Swenson said the policies that schools have in place can assure them that appropriate books have been selected and to handle challenges. The SDLA can provide help if there is a challenge and local libraries can also offer support, even moral support, Swenson and Gustafson said.

Gustafson said a parental concern about a children’s book in 2016 involved discussion with the parent who didn’t like that the book on anatomy was displayed so their children could see it.

Discussion can be part of learning as Carda said happened when REACH Literacy had banned books events in October.

Carda said the events led to good discussion as people asked questions and learned from each other.