PEN America Releases New Data and Analysis on Two Years of Book Banning

From School Library Journal:

PEN America today released a data summary looking at nearly 6,000 book bans in public schools

documented from July 2021 to June 2023. 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, PEN America said. Spineless Shelves: Two Years of Book Banning demonstrates two phenomena: copycat bans and a “Scarlet Letter” effect on authors.  

The copycat bans can be seen clearly after books that are banned in one district can be found on challenged and banned lists in school districts across state lines. The report offers this example: In the 2021-2022 school year, Sarah J. Maas’s work was banned 18 times across 10 districts. In 2022-23, that exploded to 158 bans across 36 districts, a 778 percent 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 targeted titles to target.

. . . .

Those authors not only find people pushing to censor a book in many districts after it has been challenged in one; when they have a book banned, more of their titles are targeted. The organization calls this the Scarlet Letter effect and once again uses Maas as an example. 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, according to the report.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

3 thoughts on “PEN America Releases New Data and Analysis on Two Years of Book Banning”

  1. At the risk of ruffling feathers, I must admit that I read accounts of “book banning” with a jaundiced eye. Obviously, it’s outrageous to try to ban To Kill a Mockingbird or The Diary of Anne Frank. However, I have read some of Sarah J. Maas’s books and while she’s an excellent writer, I was surprised to see that her extremely sexy books, with some scenes verging on torture, were categorized as Young Adult.

    All libraries have to be curated; there’s a limit to space and budgets. School librarians in particular have to evaluate their collections in view of age appropriateness, the local community, etc. When I see objections to Ms. Maas’s work in school libraries portrayed as a sign of narrow-minded book banning, it raises questions about the whole, sometimes shrill debate.

    • J. – That’s way too nuanced and rational for a publishing establishment that relies on screaming, “BOOK BAN” whenever the common folk question whether it’s a good idea for their children to read detailed descriptions of sexual activity between a variety of individuals, aliens, creatures, etc.

      Such complaints are particularly irritating when they originate from the vast swamp filled with desolate subhumans that lies somewhere west of the Hudson River. Why don’t those unwashed masses simply spend their meager earnings on books chosen by their betters?

    • Once you understand that the “book ban” debate isn’t really about the freedom to read, but the freedom of school administrators to make students read whatever they want and the freedom of librarians to buy whatever books they want with no oversight from the public they supposedly serve, it makes a lot more sense.

      And I say this as someone who thinks that said administrators and librarians usually make the right calls, or at least don’t usually make egregiously bad ones. Even so, the idea that the public shouldn’t be able to say “this is inappropriate, get it out of here” is kind of ridiculous.

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