After LGBT book spat, Michigan family gives $100K to library they haven’t seen
- A west Michigan businessman and his wife donated $100,000 to help keep a library open
- Patmos Library in Jamestown Township was defunded by voters in a fight over LGBTQ books
- A flood of donations raises questions about how long a public entity can operate with private funds
Andy Wierda has never set foot in the Patmos Library. The west Michigan businessman doesn’t even live in the Ottawa County township where the train depot-themed library is located.
But last week, Wierda and his wife Tracie Wierda wrote a $100,000 check to help keep its doors open.
The six-figure donation is the latest twist in a fight over whether to keep LGBTQ-themed books on the shelves in Jamestown Township, where residents voted twice this year to defund the library rather than allow it to keep operating with books that some consider pornographic.
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Andy Wierda, who lives in neighboring Georgetown Township and could not be reached Wednesday because he is traveling, posted a photo of the check on Facebook, along with an impassioned explanation about why his family felt it was important to open their wallets, and urged others to do the same.
“Ultimately, this isn't about a library,” wrote Wierda, the owner of the Derby Tavern in Hudsonville and Western Michigan Fleet Parts, an auto parts business for trucks and trailers. “This is about one group of people trying to impose their will over another. The Patmos Library happens to be the battleground this time.”
Jamestown Township drew national attention in August when voters essentially defunded their own library. The focus centered on a handful of graphic novels on the young adult shelves that had LGBTQ themes, including some with descriptions of sexual acts. In that election, voters defeated the library operating tax request, 62 percent to 37 percent.
One of the books, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” is the story of the author’s coming of age as nonbinary, and includes illustrations of sex acts. Several other books targeted by residents, including “Kiss Number 8” and “Spinning,” are stories of teens in same-sex relationships, but do not include illustrations of sex acts.
The library refused to remove the books, but did move “Gender Queer” behind the counter, so patrons would have to request it.
A second tax vote Nov. 8 was closer, but the library lost again, 56 percent to 44 percent.
The township tax provides about 84 percent of the library’s annual $245,000 budget.
After Bridge Michigan first wrote about the August millage rejection, a GoFundMe campaign raised more than $270,000 from donors from as far away as Australia to keep the library open, capped off by romance novelist Nora Roberts donating $50,000. Those one-time donations extended the time the library can stay operating without tax support until September 2024.
Library officials said the recent $100,000 donation came out of the blue – they weren’t familiar with Wierda and had not been contacted before the donation was made.
The Wierdas’ donation is likely to extend the time the library can continue to serve the public until early 2025.
But private funding for a public entity is unlikely to be sustainable, library officials acknowledge.
“We cannot run the Patmos Public Library for the next decade without stable taxpayer support,” a statement on the Patmos Library website reads. “…We will put these donations to work in the best way we can for as long as we can.”
In his Facebook post, Wierda tried to explain his largesse to an entity to which he has no connection.
“Tracie and I have never set foot in the Patmos Library in Jamestown (like many of you in the community, we have hit the Jamestown Quick Stop a lot more often than the library). Personally, I am not sure libraries have the same importance as they did 20 years ago,” he wrote. “The Internet has made so much information easily accessible to the masses, that most of us don't need to make the trip to the library anymore.”
But libraries “can be part of the hub of the community,” he wrote. “Libraries also serve the most underserved in the community. Not everybody has access to multiple computers, tablets, phones, and hi speed wi-fi. Libraries give free access to the internet, books, and magazines along with a comfortable environment to utilize them.”
Wierda wrote that his mother was a long-time advocate for the library in nearby Hudsonville. “I am not sure how she would feel about the books that are currently under fire at Patmos,” he wrote. “She may have objected to some of them. What I do know is that she would think shutting down a whole library over it should not happen.”
The inability of the two sides to work out their differences is similar to what Wierda said he sees in America in general.
“Life is lived in a lot of gray areas,” he wrote. “There aren't always simple answers. It isn't always black and white, right or wrong, good or evil. Unfortunately, in today's media, people that do think it is black and white are getting the most exposure. This goes for all sides.
“For the young people out there just getting exposed to all of this, it is hard to tell what is true and what isn't when it is coming at you from all angles. Just because someone speaks strongly and with great conviction doesn't mean what they are saying is true. Think for yourself and ask questions. As life goes on you will realize there are a lot of people that are full of crap no matter how great they may sound.”
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