PEN America Releases Comprehensive Report, "Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools"

The first comprehensive look at book bans in the 2021-22 school year breaks down the numbers by state, author, title, content, and legislative pressures. 

PEN America has released the first comprehensive look at book bans in the 2021-22 school year, "Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools." 

This update to the PEN America's Banned in the USA: Rising School Book Bans Threaten Free Expression and Students’ First Amendment Rights (April 2022) also explains the role of organized efforts to drive many of the bans.

Tips for Librarians Facing Harassment

PEN America also released actionable advice for librarians facing harassment that includes explanations and links to resources for these eight tips:

  • Identify
  • Document
  • Assess Safety
  • Notify and Communicate
  • Block, Mute, Report
  • Bolster Your Cybersecurity
  • Reach Out
  • Take Care of Yourself

Key findings of the report include:

  • From July 2021 to June 2022, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans lists 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles.
  • The 1,648 titles are by 1,261 different authors, 290 illustrators, and 18 translators, impacting the literary, scholarly, and creative work of 1,553 people altogether.
  • Bans occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states. These districts represent 5,049 schools, with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students.
  • Among the 1,648 unique titles in the Index:
    • 674 titles (41 percent) explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+ (this includes a specific subset of titles for transgender characters or stories—145 titles, or 9 percent)
    • 659 titles (40 percent) contain protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color
    • 338 titles (21 percent) directly address issues of race and racism
    • 357 titles (22 percent) contain sexual content of varying kinds, including novels with some level of description of sexual experiences of teenagers, stories about teen pregnancy, sexual assault, and abortion, as well as informational books about puberty, sex, or relationships
    • 161 titles (10 percent) have themes related to rights and activism
    • 141 titles (9 percent) are either biography, autobiography, or memoir
    • 64 titles (4 percent) include characters and stories that reflect religious minorities, such as Jewish, Muslim, and other faith traditions

PEN America also looked at the impact of legislation and estimates that at least 40 percent of bans listed in its index are connected to either proposed or enacted legislation, or to political pressure exerted by state officials or elected lawmakers aimed at restricting the teaching of certain subjects or concepts and the presence of specific books. 

In addition, PEN America identified at least 50 groups involved in pushing for book bans across the country that are operating at the national, state, or local levels. Most (73 percent) of these groups, including their regional and local chapters, appear to have formed since 2021. These groups have played a role in at least half of the book bans during the 2021–22 school year, with at least 20 percent of the book bans directly linked to these groups. An additional 30 percent show evidence of the groups' influence, including the use of common language or tactics.

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