New Report From PEN America: Two Years of Book Banning: Cumulative Data Set and Censorship Trends
From PEN America:
In a cumulative data summary released today, PEN America reflects on the nearly 6,000 book bans in public schools documented from July 2021 to June 2023. Spineless Shelves: Two Years of Book Banning illustrates the spread of copycat book bans and an apparent “Scarlet Letter” effect, where several works from an author’s catalog were subsequently targeted after at least one of their works was banned.
Over the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years, the sweeping attack on the freedom to read in public schools impacted 247 school districts across 41 states, affecting millions of students, the century-old free expression and literary group said. The data summary pulls together data from PEN America’s July 2021 to June 2023 School Book Ban Indexes for the first time and provides new insight into the movement to censor books nationwide.
In the new data summary, PEN America reflects on two phenomena: copycat bans and a “Scarlet Letter” effect.
Books that are banned in one district are frequently banned in others, with such “copycat” bans proliferating in school districts across state lines. A useful example is the work of Sarah J. Maas. In the 2021-2022 school year, her work was banned 18 times across 10 districts; but in 2022-23, that exploded to 158 bans across 36 districts – a 778% increase. As PEN America explored in Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools, groups pushing for book bans frequently share lists of titles to target, which has inflamed this copycat effect.
Several authors have also experienced a “Scarlet Letter” effect, where several works from their collection were subsequently targeted after at least one of their works was banned. This is again illustrated by author Sarah J. Maas. In the 2021-2022 school year, eight of her titles were banned. This doubled to sixteen titles in 2022-23. A similar effect has impacted bestselling authors Ellen Hopkins, Jodi Picoult, Alice Oseman, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Rupi Kaur, among others, all of whom saw more of their catalogs scrutinized after one of their works was initially targeted for banning.
From July 2021 to June 2023, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans recorded 5,894 instances of book bans. Florida and Texas lead the country in number of bans, but the crisis has spread to 41 states. A significant increase in the number of books banned from both school libraries and classrooms indicates not only an increase in the number of books banned, but that more of the bans are being enacted as permanent removals.
PEN America defines a school book ban as any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.
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About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.