How this Iowa district deployed AI to ban 19 books from its libraries

Mason City schools has far banned 19 books from its grade 7-12 libraries, with an administrator sayin g that the size of its collection was too large for staff to read every title.

As educators experiment and innovate with AI across K12, Mason City Community Schools in Iowa has deployed the technology to reduce the number of books in its libraries. The small district recently completed a review of its collections in which AI was used to scan for books that violate a new state law that restricts sexual content in K12, the Mason City Globe Gazette reported.

So far, Mason City schools has banned 19 books from its grade 7-12 libraries, with an administrator saying that the size of its collection was too large for staff to read every title that has been “purchased, donated and found.”

“We are using what we believe is a defensible process to identify books that should be removed from collections at the start of the ’23-24 school year,” Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Bridgette Exman said in a statement to the Gazette. “After this, we will continue to rely on our long-established process that allows parents to have books reconsidered. Parents will always have a voice in their students’ education.”

More from DA: What’s going on in Tulsa? State’s top ed official is lashing out at superintendent

Under the new law, Iowa’s school libraries can stock only “age-appropriate materials,” which means books and other materials cannot contain “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.” Districts must also list on their websites every book available to students in their libraries.

Exman also told the Gazette that many teachers feel uncertain and nervous because the state has not provided clear guidance on which books should be restricted and why. She also noted that no parent had challenged a book in the district in at least the last 20 years.

In an even more frank response, Exman told a website called PopSci that Mason City educators “have more important things to do than spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to protect kids from books.”

These are the books removed by Mason City schools so far (as listed by the Mason City Globe Gazette):

  • Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • A Court of Mist and Fury (series) by Sarah J. Maas
  • Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
  • Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger
  • Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The new law, signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in March, also prohibits instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

Most Popular