Stateside Podcast: West Michigan library fights back
In Michigan’s Jamestown Charter Township, one library and its staff are caught in the crosshairs of a heated debate about what books children should and should not read.
Patmos Library has been serving the community for years, and offers a variety of content for the public to consume. But recently, their decision to put LGBTQ+ books on their shelves has cost them funding and staff. In response to a nationwide movement to remove LGBTQ+ books from libraries, a group called Jamestown Conservatives began raising concerns about the books offered at Patmos in November of 2021. Since then, the movement has only grown stronger.
During the August 2022 primary elections in Michigan, voters in Jamestown Township voted to reject a proposal to renew a millage that funds Patmos Library. The decision eliminated approximately 85 percent of the library’s operating budget. Eventually, the director and interim director resigned. According to the Patmos board of trustees president, Larry Walton, the backlash has also put incredible stress on the library’s remaining staff.
“The staff is picking up the slack for the director position. So they're running thin,” Walton said. “Now we are actively trying to find a new director. We've had some staff members that have also quit because of concern for their safety. So it's hard times right now. You know, it's not just the millage and being defunded. The ripple effect is just tremendous.”
Although the library has made national headlines and received an outpouring of support and donations from individuals — including author Nora Roberts — Patmos faces a dire situation in the coming months. The 10-year levy renewal that Patmos needs has one more chance for approval in November.
Prior to the August election, there were advocates of voting yes to renew the millage, but Walton says most people assumed the Jamestown Conservatives campaign would not be successful. Now, those advocates are organized and supporting efforts to get the millage on the November ballot.
John Chrastka of the EveryLibrary Institute says that concerned parents should always have a voice in the materials their children access, but efforts to defund small libraries like Patmos are purely based on bias against the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups.
“These groups are attacking the library as a proxy for attacking those individuals in those communities,” Chrastka said. “Defunding the library in this case is the most highly politicized attack that we've seen, at least in the upper Midwest.”
Despite a lack of funding and continued opposition from Jamestown Conservatives community, Patmos Library will remain open for members of the public to come in and check out books. But with no guarantee for the tax millage to pass, the future of the library and its staff remains up in the air until November comes.
“Groups show up with a basic assumption – that I disagree with fundamentally – that LGBTQ stories should not exist in the library, because people who are not heterosexual in committed relationships should not exist,” Chrastka said. “We were seeing that problem also in terms of stories about black and brown communities. The race-class issues around this are really pernicious.”
Chrastka went on to say that when libraries are censored – like what Jamestown Conservatives aim to do at Patmos – what’s lost is “a core human value that says that we should be taking care of each other.”
Looking for more conversations from Stateside? Right this way.
If you like what you hear on the pod, consider supporting our work.
Stateside’s theme music is by 14KT.
Additional music in this episode is from Blue Dot Sessions.