As usual, EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka was busy on Election Day, this year tracking the fate of some 55 library initiatives across 16 states. And while general support for libraries appears to remain high overall, Chrastka says, he also observed some concerning trends—especially in communities where book banners and so-called “parents' rights” groups are active.
The good news: most of the levy renewals or renewal increases for libraries on the ballot on November 8 passed, and several major cities approved municipal funding or bonds to support library operations or construction.
“Renewals passed across Ohio for libraries like the Ridgemont Public Library, the Wadsworth Public Library, and the Meigs County District Public Library. In Michigan, Chikaming Township voters will contribute funding to three libraries, the Hudson Carnegie District Library renewed its levy, and the Harrison Township Library expanded theirs, among others,” Chrastka reports. “Houston voters endorsed Proposition F, a $26 million public improvement bond. Denver passed Referred Question 2L, a new levy that will generate $36 million annually. San Francisco voted for Measure F, which will continue the Library Preservation Fund charter through 2048. Voters across the Toledo-Lucas County Library service area passed Issue 11, a renewal of a 3.7 mil 5-year operating levy. These outcomes continue a trend of large urban libraries being endorsed and supported by their voters.”
Among concerning developments, however, at least two libraries were "defunded" following “significant censorship and book ban campaigns,” and now face significant cuts or possible closure.
“Voters rejected a second attempt by the Patmos Library to renew their basic levy,” Chrastka reports, a tragic development in a Michigan community where a local group has been pushing hard to ban certain books with LGBTQ content. “The 10-year levy renewal was needed to keep the library open,” Chrastka points out. “The library board will be meeting next week to decide how to proceed.”
In Arkansas, the Craighead County Jonesboro Library was defunded by 50% in the wake of an 18-month campaign to ban LGBTQ books. “Like in many libraries facing strident anti-access campaigns, the librarians and library workers were labeled pornographers and pedophiles because of the books on their shelves,” Chrastka notes.” Despite a hastily organized “Save the Library" campaign the defunding measure passed, and the library levy will be cut from $2 million to $1 million.
Other libraries weathered ballot measures pushed by would-be book banners, Chrastka points out: for example, voters in West Virginia approved a levy for the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library despite efforts by a pro-censorship group. But across the country, the 2022 mid-term election results are raising concerns that an organized political strategy to target public schools and libraries with book bans and educational gag orders may be succeeding in some communities—and an indication that a pernicious strategy to defund libraries could be on tap in future election cycles.
“The effort to tie library funding to censorship efforts is likely just beginning in our country,” Chrastka observed, telling PW that library supporters and freedom to read advocates will have to work hard to avoid a situation where “defund the library” campaigns become the new end game for book banners. “If they can't ban the book will they burn the whole place down?” Chrastka asks.
In another major election day takeaway, Chrastka noted that the 2022 mid-term election saw the fewest number of ballot initiatives in support of libraries in a generation.
“This is likely the result of a combination of internal and external factors,” Chrastka explains, pointing to the lingering effects of Covid-19 shutdowns that complicated long range planning for library boards as well as the current wave of book bans and attacks on libraries and schools, which may have played a role in some communities deciding not to pursue discretionary ballot initiatives. However, overall support for libraries remains high, Chrastka adds, and a recent EveryLibrary poll showing that most Americans overwhelmingly reject the idea of books bans suggests library leaders can pursue new measures with some confidence.
“It's time for libraries to get back to the ballot,” Chrastka says. “Covid-19 slowdowns in planning need to be jump started. And uncertainty about the political climate can be addressed through engaged campaigns.”
EveryLibrary is a national political action committee dedicated to supporting local library issues, and Chrastka is one of the most astute and engaged political advocates in the library space. You can read his full recap of election day 2022 here.
ARSL Past President Zappitello Falls Short
Meanwhile, in another closely-watched election day story, Kathy Zappitello, director of the Conneaut Public Library and past president of the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) fell short in her uphill battle to win a seat in the Ohio statehouse.
Zappitello officially announced her candidacy in the 99th District in the Ohio (representing parts of Asthtabula and Geauga counties) on August 16, under extraordinary circumstances after the Democratic nominee, Abby Kovacs, was suddenly and unexpectedly gerrymandered out of the 99th District. Zappitello stepped in and mounted a whirlwind campaign that hinged in large part on defending teachers and librarians from would-be book banners. Zappitello’s opponent, the incumbent Sarah Fowler Arthur, is the sponsor of a controversial state bill, HB327, that seeks to block schools and libraries from teaching so-called “divisive concepts.”
Zappitello told PW that while she was disappointed with the outcome, the experience running for statewide office has only strengthened her resolve to fight on. “I have no regrets,” she said. “I talked to a lot of people in a short period of time, and there are many people who believe there has to be a different way forward. So we have just keep going.”
Zappitello will now return to her post at the Conneaut Public library, but she did not rule out a future run for public office. “Yes, because I can't unsee what I’ve seen and I have grown in my wanting to help,” she said, when asked if she might mount a future campaign. “I'm so proud of my campaign. We didn’t break through this time, but just need to keep talking and together I know we can do it.”