This town voted to cut funding for its public library after including LGBTQ+ books
One of West Michigan’s fastest growing townships has decided it’d rather not have a local library if it means stocking children’s books about LGBTQ+ people.
In a ballot measure that passed this week, residents of Jamestown Township voted to fund Patmos Library by a 25-point margin, after a local conservative group campaigned against the inclusion of LGBTQ+ books and accused library staff of “trying to groom our children” by simply putting them on shelves.
The board predicts that the Patmos library, which serves an estimated population of 10,000 people, will run out of money next year.
Many attribute the failure of the ballot measure to a local Christian nationalist group called the Jamestown Conservatives. The group claims to promote awareness of “the pushing agenda of sexually explicit content that is infiltrating our local libraries aimed at our children”.
“We stand to keep our children safe and protect their purity, and to keep the nuclear family intact as God intended,” the group’s description on Facebook bed.
The group also formed in part to rally around a parent who found the young adult graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe in the adult section of the library. Kobabe’s memoirs explore their non-binary and asexual identities, and have been the most disputed book in 2021 according to the American Library Association (ALA). Larry Walton, who chairs the Patmos Library Board, says the book was removed from library shelves in November 2021 and remains behind the counter in the library’s circulation desk. Walton says directors follow the Michigan Library Association Code of Conduct.
“In the document, it says directors should put aside their personal biases and be representative of the whole community, not just the group that speaks the loudest, but everyone and we do that,” Walton told Motherboard. “LGBTQ books are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and the library board tries to be fair and neutral. We don’t favor one group or the other – we represent all aspects of diversity and unfortunately, we can’t bow to the loudest shouting and be neutral and keep everyone happy.
But the library’s neutral outlook on Patmos seems to benefit Jamestown curators more. Michigan Bridge City Jamestown Tory organizer Amanda Ensing accuses library officials of ‘trying to make our kids think it’s okay to have these sinful desires’, saying ‘it’s not a question Politics. It’s a biblical question.
Despite accusations from residents, Patmos Library’s programming is decidedly bland. The library’s Facebook page shows that over the past few months it has promotes radical events like a “Family Movie Night” with film screenings like Finding Dory and Jaws“Teen Summer Laser Tag,” a teen board game night, fish puppet show, Father’s Day arts and crafts event, family concert, and blood drive in partnership with a local medical facility.
Jamestown Township is not the first library to have its operations disrupted in this way. Libraries across the country have recently become a culture war battleground, facing an unprecedented number of book challenges and bans from conservative and far-right groups opposed to author inclusion. , staff and LGBTQ+ events. Last month, an Iowa public library was forced to temporarily close after all full-time employees have resigned. The exodus came after months of complaints from conservative residents, who criticized the posting of LGBTQ+ books and complained about the “cross-dressing” of gender-nonconforming library workers.
Amber McLain says she resigned as director of Patmos Library this spring after being harassed in person and online by members of the Johnston Conservatives.
“With the current climate, I knew mileage was a roll of the dice,” McLain told Motherboard, referring to a measure that would have funded the library by raising property taxes. “I had hope, but unfortunately things went the other way.”
If passed, the mileage would have raised property taxes by about $24 for the average home with a market value of $250,000. McLain says she finds it a shame that a small but vocal group managed to sway enough voters to reject mileage renewal by a 25-point margin, noting that many people still see libraries as places that don’t contain only books.
“There seems to be a misunderstanding of how many things that ultimately translate into a fundamental lack of understanding of tax miles in general,” she added. “On top of that is the current movement of attacks on libraries, and the library had been the target of these attacks before.”
Factory levies through property taxes are becoming more favorable among libraries because they help libraries work independently of local government influence and not have to worry about municipal budget cuts or reallocations for other civil services such as fire services, law enforcement or climate disaster emergency relief. Public libraries have also been shown to increase property values in towns and cities. According to the ALA, homes within a quarter mile of a library are worth nearly $10,000 more on average than homes further away.
“It was the goal, it was always the goal between the library board and the township that we would be independent,” Walton said. “We would be able to operate with the funding we receive and wouldn’t need additional funding from our township and we wouldn’t have to worry about extra money.”
John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary Institute, says the political influence residents have had on the Patmos Library is a major political indicator for other library-related ballot metrics results in 2022.
“It worries me that this religiously-motivated anti-person anti-access campaign has already succeeded in a small town in America,” Chrastka told Motherboard. “The idea that there is a breakdown in the respect we had in America for the separation of church and state and a rise of a political perspective that basically wants to break up government, fund education , approaching human rights issues as if it were a campaign of criminalization…this is a disturbing moment and a signal for the rest of America to wake up.
Walton says trustees will meet next week to determine what the final amount of taxpayers’ money would be and review expenses to determine how long the library on Patmos can afford to stay open.
“Obviously, without a mile being that it was rejected, we won’t have that revenue and there will be a definite time when the library is potentially closed because of that,” Walton said.