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Bridge Michigan
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Donations pour in after Michigan town defunded library over LGBTQ books

Voters essentially defunded the Patmos Library in Jamestown Township following a controversy over LGBTQ books. Donors are trying to save the library through GoFundMe campaigns. (Bridge photo by Ron French)
  • Voters in Jamestown Township defunded their library over LGBTQ-themed books
  • Donations from around the world are rolling in to try to keep the library open
  • The library board will meet Monday to discuss its financial options

Aug. 29: Romance author Nora Roberts helps save MI library defunded over LGBTQ books
Aug. 11: Fundraisers pass $100K for Michigan library defunded over LGBTQ books
Aug. 8: Defunded over LGBTQ books, Michigan library will try tax again in November

In the days after an Ottawa County community defunded its public library in a spat over LGBT-themed graphic novels, more than $50,000 in donations have poured in to help keep the doors open.

The donations to support Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, made to two GoFundMe campaigns run by local residents, had received donations from nearly 1,000 people as of early Sunday afternoon — just three days after the campaigns were launched Thursday. 

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The donations, which began after Bridge Michigan first reported on the LBGT-sparked defunding, have come mostly from Michigan residents, but there have been donations from as far away as Australia.

“‘It’s completely outdone any expectations I had,” said Jesse Dillman, organizer of one of the GoFundMe campaigns. “This is  hugely encouraging.”

The library received national attention after township voters on Tuesday rejected an operating millage renewal that provides about 84 percent of the library’s budget through a local property tax. The current millage is set to expire this year.

Library Board President Larry Walton told Bridge Michigan that, without property tax support, the library would likely close sometime in 2023.

A “vote no” campaign was organized by some local residents following protests over LGBTQ-themed graphic novels. At least one of those books, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” included illustrations of sex acts. That book, which had been shelved in the adult section of the library, is now located behind the counter.

Some residents who objected to the LGBTQ-themed books were unhappy that the library chose to keep the books in its collection. Those who spoke to Bridge after voting Tuesday acknowledged those books were the reason they voted to defund the library.

“The residents of Jamestown Charter Township want explicit books kept away from children,” Lauren Elyse Nykamp, one of the organizers of the vote no effort, told Bridge in a statement Saturday. “The voters have spoken.”

Dillman, a township resident, launched a GoFundMe campaign Thursday. By early afternoon Sunday, it had raised nearly $49,000 for the library. A separate GoFundMe campaign, organized by township resident Michelle Barrows, had raised more than $2,500.

That’s still far short of the $245,000 the library is expected to lose in tax funding in 2023 if the No vote is not reversed through another millage ballot measure, but more than fundraising organizers believed was possible.

“I thought maybe we’d get $5,000 to give to the library,” Dillman said.

“My wife and I walk there all the time, our kids love it there,” said Dillman, a 33-year-old software engineer. “To see people attacking the library, I couldn’t sit around and watch people tear down one of the core parts of the community.”

Barrows, a 45-year-old school counselor, said she has always had an affection for libraries. “My husband and I got married in a library (in Minnesota),” she told Bridge. She saw the fundraising campaign as something she could do to try to make a difference.

She said she hopes the funds can be a “stop-gap measure” to keep the library open “while we organize and promote a new millage (vote).”

The library has until Aug. 16 to approve language for a millage to get onto the November ballot, which provides the most cost-effective way to revive public funding. The library would have to pay expenses for running a special election in 2023, when no other elections are scheduled. If the library waits until August 2024 to try again, it will likely have to close before the vote.

The library board will meet Monday evening to discuss its financial options.

“I’m glad that so many people are willing to invest in the library directly” through the fundraising campaigns, Barrows said. “But again, we have a long way to go. I wish more people who believe in the power of libraries for their communities and the First Amendment would have voted (Tuesday).”

Dillman said he was communicating with the Michigan Library Association and Everylibrary, a national advocacy group, to route funds collected in his GoFundMe campaign to Patmos.

Donations have ranged from $5 to $5,000. Gary De Kock, of Grand Rapids, donated $500. De Kock grew up in Jamestown in the early 1960s, when the library was in the back room of the fire station,” he said. The current, 12,000 square-foot library was built in 1999.

“To have people rise up against (the library) seems like a mistake and short-sighted,” De Kock said. “There has always been a tradition of being afraid of books. The library should be able to put books out there and let readers decide.”

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