Society, institutions, and common sense: Themes in the discourse of book challengers in 21st century United States

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding why people attempt to remove, relocate, or restrict books in an age of ubiquitous access is one of the more puzzling aspects of contemporary challenge cases. In order to better comprehend this largely symbolic phenomenon, this study focused on the arguments that book challengers employed to justify the removal, relocation, or restriction of books in 13 challenge cases in public libraries and schools across the United States between 2007 and 2011. Three sources of discourse, which were coded for common themes, were analyzed. The first consisted of a variety of documents, obtained via state open record requests to governing bodies, which were produced in the course of challenge cases. Recordings of book challenge public hearings constituted the second source of data. The third source of discourse consisted of interviews with challengers. The study found the following common themes in challengers' worldviews: First, they saw contemporary society as being in a state of decline and were concerned with preserving the innocence of children in the midst of this decay. Second, they constructed public institutions as symbols of the community that must represent their values and aid parents in their difficult role as boundary setters. Finally, challengers demonstrated a reverence for the books as a material object and employed common sense interpretive strategies. It is hoped that this analysis will offer a starting point for comparing the discourse of challengers to the discourse of other social actors and aid librarians and other information professionals in providing effective responses to challengers to materials in their respective institutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-178
Number of pages8
JournalLibrary and Information Science Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Censorship
  • Discourse analysis
  • Intellectual freedom
  • Reading practices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


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