Banned Books Statistics

Banned Books Statistics

Book banning has a long history in the US and globally. There are records of book banns occurring more than 2,000 years ago, and while this trend changed in its nature and frequency, it never ceased to exist.

Over the last few years, book-banning efforts increased in the United States, and during 2022 alone, we’ve seen more ban initiatives than in the previous 3 years combined. In this detailed report, we’ll take an in-depth look into book banning in the US and how it has changed since 1990, both in terms of frequency but also in terms of sources, locations, and reasons for bans.

How many books are banned in the US each year?

Looking at the data on book bans since 1990, the frequency of efforts to ban books in the USA varied each decade. While the 90s records show over 600 challenges to ban books per year, we saw a drop during the first decade of the 21st century.

From 2010 to 2019, the average number of banning challenges dropped to just over 300 per year and pandemic-impacted 2020 saw a record-low amount of banning efforts. However, the last couple of years showed that book banning in the USA is far from over and the amount of banning attempts skyrocketed in 2022.

  • In 2022, book-banning efforts included 2,571 unique books targeted as problematic by various groups and individuals. This was a 60.99% increase compared to 2021.
  • During 2022 there were more titles in danger of getting banned than in 2021, 2020, and 2019 combined.
  • In 2021, the book ban challenges included 1,597 different titles, and this presented a 485% rise in the number of books targeted by ban groups compared to 2020.
  • As the Covid-19 outbreak temporarily closed schools and libraries, book-banning efforts were minimal during 2020, as only 273 unique titles were officially challenged as undesirable.
  • Since 2017, book bans in the US have affected 5,906 unique titles or 984 titles per year.
YearUnique titles challengedChange

Efforts to ban books usually involve multiple titles – this is why we always see the number of unique titles whose removal is requested outnumber official ban proposals.

  • 1,269 separate official requests to ban books in the US were registered in 2022.
  • This was a 74.07% increase over 729 challenges initiated during 2021.
  • During 2020 there were “only” 156 book bans initiated, the least since the record is being measured.
  • Over the last 10 years, 4,448 official banning requests were submitted in the US.

As the number of books whose ban was requested increased over the last several years, so did the number of book ban proposals per challenge:

  • In 2022, the average book-banning request contained 2.03 unique titles.
  • While this is a 7.52% drop compared to 2.19 titles per challenge in 2021, the increase over 2017 is 72.41%.
  • The average book-banning challenge in the USA contains more than one unique title for 2 years in a row.
YearUnique titles per challengeChange

Sources of book banning in the US

Almost all of the book-banning efforts in the United States are concentrated in schools and libraries. 99% of all requests for banning books in the country are located in these 2 institutions.

  • Most of the US book ban challenges have occurred in public libraries – 609 recorded during 2022.
  • 520 challenges were registered in school libraries, the second most frequent source of book bans in the country.
  • Schools in the US accounted for 127 ban attempts during 2022, making them the third largest source of book banning.
  • School library challenges increased more than 14 times since 2014, by far the largest increase over this period among all sources of book banning.
  • Public library challenges increased by 414% over the same period, and school challenges raised “only” 13.39%.
YearSchool library challengesPublic library challengesSchool challenges
2000-2009 annual average162120181
1990-1999 annual average202154202

Schools and libraries in the US account for 99% of all book-banning efforts in the country. This has been the case for most of the past 30 years. Public libraries historically account for the most banning challenges, followed by school libraries.

YearShare of school library challengesShare of public library challengesShare of school challenges
2000-2009 average31%23.00%34.64%
1990-1999 average34%26.00%56.74%

Who is initiating book banning in the US?

The main initiator(s) of banning changed over the years, but they usually come from one of the following sources: parents of students, school boards, library patrons, various political and religious groups, teachers and librarians, and elected officials. These groups account for over 96% of all banning efforts in the US.

  • During 2022, parents were responsible for 381 book-banning attempts in the US, most of all groups and individuals.
  • Library patrons added 355 challenges during 2022, and they are historically the second largest group when it comes to book banning.
  • Various political and religious groups added 216 ban attempts in 2022, and these groups raised to the third stop among book banners in the country.
  • School boards contributed with 190 challenges during 2022, and all other groups added 127 banning attempts.
YearParent challengesSchool board challengesPatrons’ challengesPolitical and religious groupsElected officialsTeachers and librariansOthers
2000-2009 annual average262625221311130
1990-1999 annual average36379856111822

Parents are historically the most active group when it comes to initiating book bans across the country. Only in 2020, this group accounted for 50% of all banning attempts in the US.

Library patrons initiated 28% of challenges during 2022, contributing as much as 45% of all efforts in 2019. In 2018, over 10% of banning attempts came from librarians and teachers.

School boards are historically the third largest group participating in book banning, accounting for 15% of all challenges in 2022.

YearParent challengesSchool board challengesPatrons’ challengesPolitical and religious groupsElected officialsTeacher challengesOthers
2000-2009 annual average48.51%11.46%9.55%3.87%0.57%2.05%23.99%
1990-1999 annual average57.66%12.54%13.58%9.72%0.16%2.85%3.50%

Reasons for banning books in the US

Since 1990, most of the books that ended up on the proposed bans contained sexually explicit content, according to initiators of bans. Other common reasons include content containing offensive and curse language, violence, homosexuality, or material unsuited for the intended age group.

The most notable increase over the past decade is seen in books that deal with homosexuality, and these titles are 104% more frequent on banning lists compared to previous decades. Books that discuss certain religious viewpoints have been 65% more common on the banning list over the past decade, and books that contain content related to drugs, alcohol, and smoking are 45% more present on banned lists.

Most frequently banned books of all time

Since 1990, there have been 18 books ranking in the top 100 most banned books in a decade for all three decades behind us.

  • Out of those 18, Alvin Schwartz’s series called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark ranks as the most frequently banned book over the past 33 years.
  • Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice comes in second place, sharing this spot with John Steinbeck’s book Of Mice and Men.
  • Of the top most banned books on our list, 9 have been published prior to 1990.
  • Offensive language is the most common reason for banning the top 10 most banned titles, followed by sexually explicit content.
TitleAuthorPublish yearWordsRated ban score
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (series)Alvin Schwartz198193
Alice (series)Phyllis Reynolds Naylor198590
Of Mice and MenJohn Steinbeck193790
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual HealthRobie Harris199486
Adventures of Huckleberry FinnMark Twain188486
The Bluest EyeToni Morrison197079
The Catcher in the RyeJ. D. Salinger195179
I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsMaya Angelou196978
The Color PurpleAlice Walker198277
The Chocolate WarRobert Cormier197475

Most frequently banned authors of all time

There are 182 authors whose books appeared on the list of the 100 most frequently banned since 1990. Out of those, 33 have multiple books finding their way on the banned list.

  • With her 5 titles appearing 9 times on the list of the most banned books of the decade for the previous 3 decades, Judy Blume is the most frequently banned author since 1990.
  • Blume is followed by Toni Morrison, who has 3 books and 9 total appearances on the most banned lists over this period.
  • Robert Cormier is on the 3rd stop on the most banned authors list, followed by Katherine Paterson and Alvin Schwartz.
AuthorTitles among the most bannedTimes appeared on 100 most banned titlesWordsRated ban rank
Judy Blume59172
Toni Morrison38159
Robert Cormier35140
Katherine Paterson24116
Alvin Schwartz24115
Lois Lowry25114
Robie Harris24109
Mark Twain2493
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor1390
John Steinbeck2390

Banned books in US prisons

Over 56,717 books, newspapers, magazines, and journals are prohibited from reading in US prisons as of 2022.

  • The biggest share of prison book banning goes to Florida, accounting for 35.62% of all banned prison books.
  • Texas prisons contain 16.57% of all removed titles from US prisons, while Missouri ranks no 3 with 12.13%.
  • During 2021, over 4,941 unique titles were banned from US prisons, the most since this stat is being recorded.
  • 29.11% of books banned in prison contain sexually explicit content, making this the most common reason for prison book banning.
  • 6.49% of titles contain nudity, and 5.58% describe and discuss rape.