In a statement this week, the Michigan Library Association defended a local library that has been defunded by voters over the library’s refusal to pull several LGBTQ-themed books from library shelves. As PW reported last week, the Patmos Library (Jamestown, MI) lost its 10-year levy renewal vote after a group of citizens organized a “no” campaign in the wake of the library's refusal to censor books, a move that will almost certainly force the library to close its doors in the coming year.
“A local tragedy with national implications, the Patmos Library is the only library in the country that has essentially been defunded by the vote of its citizens due to its refusal to comply with censorship,” reads a November 14 statement from the Michigan Library Association. “Defunding the library is short sighted and punishes, irreparably, the entire community who count on the programs and services a library provides.”
MLA officials note that the push to defund the Patmos Library began after a group of citizens objected to a handful of books the groups wanted pulled from shelves, and appears to revolve around actions taken on five books. One book, Maia Kobabe’s critically acclaimed graphic memoir Gender Queer (which has been the subject of a national campaign by book banners) was reportedly pulled from the adult section of the library and put behind the desk for requests only last December after being targeted by book banners. And according to the MLA statement, four more challenged books were returned to library shelves in October.
“Some members of the community continue to demand that all books containing LGBTQ+ themes be removed, a selection that represents about 90 books, or less than .01% of the library’s collection,” the MLA statement notes.
“Of utmost importance to any public library is curating collections that allow every citizen to see themselves and the world around them in the diversity of books and resources their library provides for all ages, all abilities, all interests, all races, all nationalities, all religions, the rich, the poor, the traditional and nontraditional families, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and those that don’t,” reads the MLS statement. “This is a core tenant of librarianship—to provide for the interests of all, and to do so without bias. For countless individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ and who face bullying, isolation and depression, access to LGBTQ+ representation and information in books from the library offers them a safe haven and in some cases is lifesaving. It is critically important that everyone has access to books where they can see themselves, validate their existence and experiences and reinforce their self-worth.”
The statement goes on to call out would-be censors for violating the Constitutional rights of library patrons. “Individuals have the right and responsibility to make decisions about what materials are suitable for themselves and for their own families. Period,” the statement reads. “No one has the right to make rules restricting what other people read, or to make decisions for other families.”
The library board is now set to meet on November 21. For now, the library will remain open for as long as private donations can sustain it—which includes more than $265,000 raised from outside donations (boosted by a $50,000 donation from bestselling author Nora Roberts). But without its 10-year levy renewal, the library will almost certainly be forced to close sometime in 2023.
“The Jamestown library board and community face many difficult decisions in the coming year,” the MLA notes. “When the decision is made to close and lock the library doors, everyone—those that voted no, those that voted yes, and those that did not vote—will lose access to a place to read, gather, socialize, study, vote and learn.”
The move to defund the Patmos library is a concerning development in what has been a two-year surge in attempted book bans and educational gag orders nationwide, organized by national political groups seeking to activate conservative voters at the local level under the guise of "parents' rights."
Commenting on his extensive post-Election Day report last week EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka suggested that the "effort to tie library funding to censorship efforts" was likely just beginning, 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 asked.