A small town library is in danger of closing after residents of Jamestown, Michigan, voted to defund it rather than tolerate some books with LGBTQ+ themes.
Residents voted on Tuesday to prevent the renewal of funds linked to property taxes. Bridge Michigan reported.
Voting leaves the library with funds available by the first quarter of next year. Once the reserve fund is depleted, it should be closed, to the detriment of not just readers but the entire community, Larry Walton, chair of the Library Committee, told Michigan Bridge. In addition to books, residents visit the library for its Wi-Fi, he said, and it includes the same room in which the voting took place.
“Our libraries are places to read, places to gather, places to socialize, places to learn, places to study. I mean, they are the heart of every community,” Deborah Mikola, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, told The Guardian.
“We are advocates of access,” she added, including material that may appeal to some in the community but not others. “We want to make sure that libraries protect the right to read.”
The Jamestown controversy began with a complaint about the memoirs of a non-binary author, but soon escalated into a campaign against the Patmos Library itself. After a parent complained about Maya Cobabe’s “Gender: A Memoir,” a graphic novel about the author’s experience of being non-binary, dozens appeared at library committee meetings, urging the institution to drop the book. (The book, which contains pictures of sex, was in the adult section of the library.) Complaints were directed to other books with LGBTQ+ topics.
A librarian resigned, telling Bridge that she had been harassed and accused of indoctrinating children; Behind her, Matt Lawrence, also left the job. Although the library put Kobabe’s book behind the counter rather than on the shelves, volumes remained available.
“We, the board, are not going to ban the books,” Walton told The Associated Press on Thursday.
A few months later, in March, an anonymous letter was sent to families in the area. According to Lawrence, the book criticized “pornographic” memoirs and the library’s inclusion of “transgender” and “gay” books. “It infuriated many and made them come to our board meetings to complain,” he said. “It was the public’s concern that it would confuse the kids.”
The library’s refusal to comply led to a campaign asking residents to vote against refinancing the library. A group calling itself Jamestown Conservatives distributed pamphlets condemning homosexuals for displaying “highly graphic sexual illustrations of two people of the same sex”, criticizing a library manager for “promoting LGBTI ideology”, and calling for the library to be a “safe and neutral place for our children”. The group says on Facebook that it exists to “protect our children and protect their purity as well as keep the nuclear family intact as God intended.”
Residents eventually voted 62% to 37% against a measure that would have increased property taxes by about $24 to fund the library, even though they agreed to similar measures to fund the fire department and road works. Mikola said the library was among the few libraries in the state that suffered such a loss: “Most of them went through flying colours, sometimes as high as 80%.”
The vote came as a “shock” for Lawrence, who quit his job in part because of criticism by city officials of the Patmos bookstore and libraries across the United States.
“I knew there were people who were upset with the material in the library,” he said, “but I thought enough people would realize that what they’re trying to do about removing these books goes against our constitution, especially the first change.”
The vote comes as bookstores across the United States face a wave of calls to ban books. The American Library Association identified 729 challenges for “Library, School, and College Materials and Services” last year. It led to nearly 1,600 appeals or removals from individual books. That’s 273 books from the previous year and represented “the largest number of book ban attempts since we began compiling these lists 20 years ago,” Patricia Wong, president of the Book Association of America, said in a press release.
“We’re seeing what appears to be a campaign to remove books, particularly books dealing with LGBTQIA issues and books dealing with racism,” Deborah Caldwell Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Freedom of Thought, told The Guardians last year. Books that have been banned include Toni Morrison, Alison Bechdale and Abram X Kennedy.
“I’m not quite sure what started the culture wars we’re seeing, but libraries are definitely on the cutting edge,” Mikola said. In fact, Gender Queer has been ALA’s “most challenging” book over the past year as states across the US scramble to deny LGBT rights.
Cobabe told the New York Times in May.
Mikola notes that each bookstore chooses its own collection, an intense process that involves keeping up with what’s new, listening to requests, and weeding out rarely-borrowed selections.
“Our librarians are qualified. They have advanced degrees,” she said. “We want to make sure that the people who are hired to do this work are trustworthy and credible and that they ensure that the entire community is represented in their library. And that means owning LGBTQ books.”
When community members object to the inclusion of certain books, there are formal means of requesting their removal by engaging the review board and ensuring that the objecting person has actually read the book in question. But recently, she said, “People have been going to board meetings, whether it’s a library board meeting or a school board meeting, and they’re like, ‘This is a list of 300 books. We want to remove them all from your library. This is not the correct channel, but they are loud and their voices carry. “