Unfit to Read?

A public records project that looks at book challenges in schools in Missouri and across the country.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (July 18, 2012) – Sunshine requests for public records of book challenges were sent to all 566 Missouri school districts asking for all correspondence regarding book challenges since Jan. 1, 2008. Responses to the requests came in from 495 of the school districts. There were 51 titles challenged in 32 school districts, including one in Columbia. Many of the challenges had less to do with the overall content of a book but more to do with whether it was appropriate for certain age groups. Others argued that the books they were challenging were inconsistent with community values or that they contained language and references to behavior that conflicted with school conduct rules.

Charles Davis, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, organized the book challenges project published by the Missourian this week. Davis credits his students' dogged pursuit of information as well as the access to public information our country provides to the project's successful results.
The American Library Association lists 1,647 challenges in the United States from 2008 through 2011. The vast majority involved K-12 schools, but there were other challenges to books in prisons, theaters, museums and university libraries. The association estimates only one of every four or five challenges is reported.
Placed against a national backdrop, Missouri’s library book challenges hit many common themes. Sexually explicit descriptions and offensive language are two of the top drivers of book challenges, which typically are initiated by parents, according to the American Library Association.
Why do people challenge books? Laura King, professor of psychological sciences at MU, says it is about control and defending one's world view and belief systems.
Charles N. Davis, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, is also the former executive director of NFOIC — eds.