As I was putting together a little workshop on CartoDB, I stumbled upon this map of banned books. And I thought “Oh! That’s kind of interesting since the scale is pretty distorted — you have to read the fine print to see that Oregon, Connecticut and North Carolina appear to have somewhere between 9 and 12 each, while Texas has 114. But Texas happens to be quite a bit bigger than Oregon or North Carolina or Connecticut. I thought it would be a fun data set to normalize to the population — a teachable moment, so to speak. So I sniffed around on the ALA website and couldn’t find any data this recent. So I wrote to them, and got this in response:
Thank you for your inquiry about the Office for Intellectual Freedom’s raw data compiled for the censorship database. The information is provided to our office from individuals who report incidents to OIF voluntarily or is compiled from news reports. The information for each report is validated but OIF does not always track the progress or eventual outcome of each censorship attempt reported to it nor can it assure that data items are consistent across each report. In addition, not every challenge is reported to OIF.
As a result, the information that we maintain is a snapshot of requests to remove or restrict books from libraries and classrooms and is not a complete or exhaustive source of data on such activities. OIF maintains the database for internal staff use, as a means of encouraging libraries to report challenges, and to create awareness of the importance of protecting and celebrating the freedom to read. Because censorship database does not have the statistical validity demanded by many social scientists and researchers and may be vulnerable to misinterpretation and misuse, we must deny any request asking OIF to share raw data.
I had noticed, before the ALA responded to me, that this is a chart of “challenges” which seems subtly different from actual banned books. For one thing. So the other thing that seems apparent is that we have no idea whether the real problem is that Texas just logs challenges better than other states. Maybe Vermont and Maine just don’t report requests to ban a book.
And I don’t know whether this chart means that 114 different titles were challenged in the state of Texas or just 114 different people objected to books. Maybe the same books over and over. Maybe there’s just one wingnut in Texas who challenges a book every day?
(Source: The Huffington Post)