In a new report out this week, PEN America found that the number of individual books banned by schools across the nation surged to record levels through the first half of the 2023-2024 school year.

The new report, Banned in the USA: Narrating the Crisis, reports 4,349 book bans recorded across 23 states and 52 public school districts from July to December 2023. PEN officials noted that more book bans were recorded during the first half of the current school year than in the entire 2022-2023 year, in which 3,362 books were targeted.

“For anyone who cares about the bedrock of American values and the protection of free expression, this report should be a red alert,” said the report’s lead author, Sabrina Baêta, Freedom to Read program manager at PEN, in a release. “Book bans are targeting narratives about race and sexual identities and sexual content writ large, and they show no sign of stopping.”

Among the report’s key findings:

  • The more than 4,000 book bans in the first half of this school year suggest that the pace of book banning is speeding up year over year
  • Once again, Florida led the nation with 3,135 bans acrss 11 school districts—over 1,600 of which came from the Escambia County Public Schools
  • Behind Florida, Wisconsin came in second with 481 bans, with 444 of those bans stemming from a single complaint; Iowa came in third, with 142 bans, followed by Texas, with 141
  • The campaign to ban books is active in both red and blue districts
  • Would-be book banners continue to use “obscenity” claims and hyperbolic rhetoric about “porn in schools” to justify banning books about sexual violence and LGBTQ+ topics, as well as attacking themes of race and racism by “advancing rhetoric disparaging ‘critical race theory,’ ‘woke ideology,’ and efforts to ensure library collections are diverse and inclusive”

But there is also hope, the report finds. Now into the third year of an organized right-wing attack on the freedom to read, PEN America also found that "resistance" to book banning is also on the rise.

“Galvanized by the actions of the very students most impacted by book bans, a broad coalition of educators, librarians, parents, authors, and advocates are organizing in ways large and small to protect the freedom to read,” the report states. “The growing resistance to the book banning movement is a signal that today’s censorship efforts may be losing in the popular consciousness. But the crisis is not over. Every day, librarians are laid off and public libraries thrown into disarray, their already precarious funding further threatened. Educators are left unsure of their job security and physical safety, undermining their ability to do their jobs.”

The report is the latest in PEN America’s Banned in the USA series, exploring educational censorship in America’s schools. Prior to today's release, a report last September found a 33% increase in school book bans, and a report in April 2023, Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools, explored how state legislation was fueling bans. With the inclusion of the organization's two previous reports, PEN America has documented more than 10,000 book bans so far.

The PEN America report comes a month after the American Library Association reported a similar acceleration in book banning, finding that the number of unique titles targeted for censorship surged 65% in 2023 compared to 2022, once again hitting record levels.

In the ALA’s annual State of America's Libraries report, released on April 8 during National Library Week, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA's office for intellectual freedom, put the three-year surge in book bans in perspective, noting that the ALA tracked more book bans 2023 than in the previous 20 years combined.