In honor of annual Banned Books Week, writers’ group PEN America released a new study breaking down the nation’s troubling censorship resurgence within public school districts. The statistics are pretty stark.
Over the past year, PEN America documented 1,648 different book titles facing censorship challenges in across the US, with Texas leading the charge thanks to 801 bans across 22 districts. In total, almost 4 million students nationwide have seen books removed from their school library shelves, the majority of which feature LGBTQ+ or BIPOC authors and subject matter.
“Many Americans may conceive of challenges to books in schools in terms of reactive parents, or those simply concerned after thumbing through a paperback in their child’s knapsack or hearing a surprising question about a novel raised by their child at the dinner table,” writes the report’s authors, Nadine Farid Johnson and Jonathan Friedman. “However, the large majority of book bans underway today are not spontaneous, organic expressions of citizen concern. Rather, they reflect the work of a growing number of advocacy organizations that have made demanding censorship of certain books and ideas in schools part of their mission.”
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As Axios notes, the actual total number could even be higher than PEN America’s count. The study only details instances either reported to the organization directly or those that managed to make national headlines in the past year.
Despite the undeniably worrisome effort organized by well-funded advocacy groups and that primarily impact stories from marginalized groups, some libraries are finding ways to fight back against politicized censorship. As CNN reported last week, multiple public library systems across the nation have started issuing free electronic membership cards to students regardless of geographic location in order to counter local reading impediments. Via these strategies, students are able to use their electronic library cards to check out thousands of eBooks and audiobooks, as well as access databases that otherwise might be inaccessible to them thanks to renewed censorship efforts.
Brooklyn Public Libraries, for example, has reportedly given out over 5,100 cards to adolescents as part of its Books UnBanned initiative launched in April. Similar grassroots efforts have also been underway in Austin, TX, as well as through the Louisiana Association of School Librarians.