A stack of books chained and locked up

Serial Book Banner Demonstrates How 11 People Accounted for 60% of All U.S. Book Challenges

Jennifer Petersen is demonstrating how it is possible that just 11 people were reportedly responsible for 60% of all book challenges across the United States during the 2021-2022 school year. Petersen is the latest woman to make the news for going on a book-banning spree in her community. Recently, a woman named Connie Phillips also garnered attention after she was found to have filed over 100 complaints and challenges to the St. Tammany Parish Library. Phillips and 14 others succeeded in getting 172 books pulled from the library, which serves a quarter million residents. They wasted an estimated $72,000 in library resources to deal with their serial complaints.

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This was not an isolated incident but seemingly part of a trend in the book banning and challenges sweeping across the country at an unprecedented rate. It’s just a handful of people in the nation responsible for the number of book challenges recorded in 2022 and 2021. This is an important point to emphasize because it means that states passing legislation instigating book bans in schools do this at the behest of the smallest possible minority. The idea that parents nationwide are supporting this and stepping up to protect their children is false. It’s just the work of a few outliers.

At the same time, most will likely wonder how it’s possible that just a few people are behind the over 1,000 book challenges the American Library Association recorded in 2022. Well, Petersen has shown exactly how this happens.

Meet serial book challenger Jennifer Petersen

The Washington Post provided the analysis of book banning, which found that 11 people accounted for 60% of book bans nationwide, each responsible for filing as many as 100 challenges. It also published an article about one of these serial book banners and her process. In quite horrific detail, Petersen spoke to the news outlet about how she single-handedly challenged 73 books in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County Public Schools district. The stay-at-home mother has seemingly made book-banning her hobby, keeping all 73 books on a shelf in her basement as a sort of trophy.

The ALA and other associations have compiled lists of the most banned books to bring attention to the severity of book banning and to find trends in the most commonly targeted books, often those dealing with LGBTQ+ or race topics. However, Petersen admits using these lists to find ideas for which books to go after next in her school district. Unlike most book banners, she actually reads the books. She only looks for anything related to sexual content, though, even if it’s just a single sentence. She’ll flag it with a post-it note and then disrupt every school board meeting by attending and reading the material out loud without providing context for the passages.

One librarian estimated that a team of 10 staff members spends 40 hours a week just dealing with all of Petersen’s complaints. They’re usually forced to do this on overtime because they have a school library they are trying to run and serve students with during the day. It’s believed some staffers have quit over Petersen’s complaints and behavior. Meanwhile, the only reason Petersen could give for doing all this is that she fears books with sexual content will make teenagers want to have sex. Of course, she isn’t content with keeping these works from her own children but wants to ensure that all parents have an easier way to “preserve their kids’ innocence.”

Petersen’s actions are quite disturbing. The fact that she finds no shame in admitting to being so disruptive, wasting so many resources, and putting additional stress on already overworked, underpaid workers is shocking. Additionally, her reasoning for doing this makes no sense. Censoring books that seek to educate teens about sex only means they’ll probably seek information via less safe mediums, such as the Internet. She also claims that these books will result in teens having unsafe sex, yet many tackle sex education and especially emphasize safe sex and consent. It seems teens would be far more likely to engage in unsafe sex if they were barred from learning the most basic sex education than if they were exposed to realistic or educational depictions of sex.

Hopefully, the article raises awareness of who book banners really are. They are people with far too much time on their hands, who are disturbingly obsessed with the idea of teen sex and find joy in harassing, disrupting, and putting immense strain on school districts that are simply trying to educate children. They deserve no one’s support or time, and procedures must be put in place to stop these people from making being serial book challengers their personal hobby.

(featured image: ConstantinosZ / Getty)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.