A compromise offers hope for Michigan library defunded over LGBTQ books
- Patmos Library in Ottawa County was defunded in a fight over LGBTQ-themed graphic novels
- This week, the library board voted to add content descriptions to the inside covers of 90,000 books
- The library hopes that’s enough to convince residents to approve a new millage request at a vote in November
A compromise is offering hope that a west Michigan library defunded over LGBTQ-themed books may be able to keep its doors open.
The Patmos Library, in Jamestown Township in Ottawa County, will ask voters for a third time to approve a millage that provides 84 percent of the library’s $250,000 budget. That vote will take place Nov. 7.
Similar millage requests have failed twice in this politically conservative community, following outcry among some residents over several graphic novels shelved in the young adult section of the library that had LGBTQ themes. One of those books, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” tells the story of the author’s coming of age as nonbinary, and includes illustrations of sex acts.
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The difference this time: The library board voted Tuesday to add labels to the insider covers of all books, giving readers a brief overview of the genre and subject matter. The labels would be copied from book descriptions from the Library of Congress or book-selling websites like Amazon. The labels won’t include anything written by the staff or the library board.
While not offering warnings, those descriptions could provide clues to parents about content some may find objectionable for their children. For example, part of the description of “Gender Queer” on Amazon reads that the book is an “intensely cathartic autobiography chart(ing) eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears.”
The labeling will begin with new book purchases. The first section of existing books to get labels will be children’s and young adult books, with librarians eventually adding labels to all the 90,000 books in the collection.
No books will be removed from the library as part of the compromise. “Gender Queer” is currently kept behind the counter, where it can be checked out by patrons.
Three members of the six-person library board were involved in a campaign in 2022 to defeat millage efforts in August and November of last year. In what could be an encouraging sign for the library regaining taxpayer support, those three members voted to put the latest millage request on the ballot this November.
Board members could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The small town library gained international attention last year, when residents voted to defund the public facility. More than $200,000 was raised from donors from as far away as Australia to help the library stay open.
Following the Patmos controversy, similar debates arose at libraries across the state. In March, the prosecutor of Lapeer County threatened criminal charges against the local public library if the library declined to remove “Gender Queer.” The library board voted to keep the book on its shelves.
In April, a Cass County commissioner proposed an ordinance that sought to criminalize the distribution of sexually "explicit" library books to children. The proposal was pulled before it came up for a vote, following public and media attention.
Patmos is the only public library in the state currently facing closure because of being defunded. Even with donations, without approval of an operating millage, the library is expected to run out of money in the fall of 2024.
Jamestown Township resident Tricia Kryda told Bridge Michigan Wednesday that the controversy isn’t as hot as it was last year, but “there are still people who are really, really against the library,” and continue to raise concerns over LGBTQ issues.
Recently, the library canceled a family movie night at which the library planned to screen the Disney movie “Strange World” because of complaints from conservative members of the community. The animated movie was Disney's first film to include an openly gay character. While not the main plot of the movie, a teenage character at one point expresses feelings for another male character.
“It seems a little ridiculous to put the librarians through all this work (of adding labels to books) when it’s easy to find this information online,” Kryda said
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