West Michigan library defunded over LGBTQ books wins tax support on 3rd try
- On its third try, a west Michigan library won a vote for taxpayer support to stay open
- Patmos Library had been defunded in previous votes in a fight over LGBTQ-themed books for children and teens
- The fight gained international attention, with more than $300,000 donated to keep the library open
A west Michigan library that drew international attention after it was defunded twice by voters over LGBTQ-themed books has finally won the taxpayer support needed to stay open.
Voters in Ottawa County’s Jamestown Township approved an operating millage Tuesday for the Patmos Library by a 63 percent to 37 percent margin, with all votes counted, ending one of Michigan’s most contentious culture wars over books.
“I feel like I’m going to cry,” library supporter Tricia Kryda said late Tuesday. “I feel like I’ve been on edge for a year and a half.”
About 84 percent of the library’s $250,000 budget comes from township property taxes. The library has managed to stay open since its first millage defeat in August 2022 by dipping into $300,000 in donations that were raised through GoFundMe campaigns, but was still expected to run out of money by the fall of 2024 if it lost Tuesday’s vote.
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Under the three-year millage passed Tuesday, homeowners will pay 0.419 per $1,000 of taxable value. A home with a taxable value of $200,000, for example, would pay $83.80 annually toward support of the library.
The book battle began in Jamestown village and surrounding Jamestown Township in the spring of 2022 over three books. The most controversial of the three, Gender Queer: A Memoir,” includes drawings that depict sex acts. That book has since been moved from the adult graphic novel section to behind the circulation desk, where patrons wishing to check it out must request it.
In August 2022, the library’s millage vote lost by 25 percentage points after some community members claimed the library was exposing children to pornography. Three months later, a second vote lost by 12 points.
Three of the library board’s six seats were up for election in that second, November election last year, and residents who had expressed concerns about the sexual content of books meant for children or teens won the positions.
That new board, evenly split between members who supported and opposed the LGBTQ-themed books, reached a compromise — no books would be removed from the library, but all books would get descriptions of their contents placed on their inside covers. The labels will 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” charting the author’s “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 process of adding labels to the library’s 90,000-volume collection could take years, staff members told Bridge in October.
Following that compromise, the three new board members who expressed concerns about LGBTQ-themed books in children and young adult shelves in the library agreed to support the latest millage proposal as a move necessary to keep the library’s doors open.
While there were fewer inflammatory yard signs accusing the library of “grooming” children this fall, some residents did receive a text message over the weekend urging voters to once again reject the millage, according to screenshots of the text sent to Bridge Michigan.
“Protect child innocence,” the text message said in part. “The God-fearing citizens of Jamestown spoke twice and no real changes were made. We must once again stand for righteousness and not allow the abuse of our kids. NEVER compromise on principles!”
In a written statement to Bridge Wednesday, Library Board President Kathy Van Zandbergen said, "We are grateful to our Jamestown community residents who came out to vote and supported the millage for the Patmos Library. The library will continue to be a treasured community asset and the funding will ensure that all library services and resources will be available to our patrons."
Kryda, who runs a Facebook page for supporters of the library, said Tuesday’s vote made her “incredibly hopeful” for the first time since the controversy began.
“Maybe people saw through all the noise and decided our library is more important than fighting with each other.”
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