A small-town library is at risk of closing after residents of Jamestown, Michigan voted to defund it over condoning certain LGBTQ+-themed books.
Residents voted Tuesday to block the renewal of funds related to property taxes, Bridge Michigan reported.
The vote leaves the library with funds until the first quarter of next year. Once a reserve fund is depleted, it would be forced to close, said Larry Walton, library board chairman, in Bridge Michigan, which would hurt not just readers but the community as a whole. Beyond the books, residents visit the library for its wifi, he said, and it houses the very room where the vote took place.
Our libraries are places to read, places to gather, places to socialize, places to study, places to learn. I mean, they are the heart of every community, Deborah Mikula, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, told the Guardian. So how can you lose this?
We are champions of access, she added, including materials that might appeal to some community members and not others. We want to make sure that libraries protect the right to read.
According to Lawrence, an anonymous letter was sent to homes in Jamestown. Photography: Courtesy of Matt Lawrence
The Jamestown controversy started with a complaint about a memoir by a non-binary writer, but it quickly escalated into a campaign against the Library of Patmos itself. After a parent complained about Gender Queer: a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, a graphic novel about the authors’ experience that turns out to be non-binary, dozens of people showed up at the board meetings of the library, demanding that the institution abandon the book. (The book, which includes depictions of sex, was in the adult section of the library.) Complaints began to target other books with LGBTQ+ themes.
A library director resigned, telling Bridge she had been harassed and accused of indoctrinating children; his successor, Matt Lawrence, also left the post. Although the library put Kobabe’s book behind the counter rather than on the shelves, the volumes remained available.
We, the board, will not ban the books, Walton told The Associated Press on Thursday.
A few months later, in March, an anonymous letter arrived in neighborhood homes. He criticized pornographic memoirs and the addition of transgender and gay books to the library, according to Lawrence. It triggered a lot of people and caused them to come complaining to our board meetings, he said. The public concern was that it would confuse children.
The libraries’ refusal to comply with the demands led to a campaign urging residents to vote against renewing the library’s funding. A group calling itself the Jamestown Conservatives have distributed leaflets condemning Gender Queer for showing extremely graphic sexual illustrations of two people of the same sex, criticizing a library manager who promoted LGBTQ ideology and calling for the library to a safe and neutral place for our children. On Facebook, the group says it exists to keep our children safe and protect their purity, as well as to keep the nuclear family intact as God intended.
A flyer distributed at the city’s Memorial Day events. Photography: Courtesy of Matt Lawrence
Residents ultimately voted 62% to 37% against a measure that would have raised property taxes by about $24 to fund the library, even as they approved similar measures to fund firefighters and roadwork. The library was one of the few in the state to suffer such a loss, Mikula said: Most passed with flying colors, sometimes as much as 80 percent.
The vote came as a shock to Lawrence, who quit his job in part because of criticism from city officials of the Patmos Library and libraries across the United States.
I knew there were people who were unhappy with the library materials, but I thought enough people would realize that what they are trying to do with the removal of these books is against our constitution, especially the First Amendment, he said.
The vote comes as libraries across the United States face an increase in requests to ban books. The American Library Association identified 729 challenges to materials and services from libraries, schools, and universities last year, resulting in about 1,600 challenges or removals of individual books. That was 273 books the previous year and represents the highest number of attempted book bans since we began compiling these lists 20 years ago, ALA President Patricia Wong said in a statement. Press release.
We are seeing what appears to be a campaign to remove books, especially books dealing with LGBTQIA themes and books dealing with racism, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, ALA’s office chief for intellectual freedom, said at Guardian last year. Famous books by Toni Morrison, Alison Bechdel and Ibram X Kendi are among those banned.
I’m not entirely sure what started the culture wars, but libraries are definitely on the front line, Mikula said. Indeed, as states across the United States attempt to deny LGBTQ+ rights, ALA’s most contested book last year was Gender Queer.
When you pull these books off the shelf or publicly challenge them in a community, what you’re saying to any young person who identifies with this narrative is: We don’t want your story here, Kobabe told New York Times in May.
Each library chooses its own collection, Mikula noted, an intensive process that involves keeping up to date with what’s new, listening to what’s in demand and weeding out selections that are rarely loaned out.
Our librarians are qualified. They have advanced degrees, she said. We want to make sure that the people who have been hired to do this work are trustworthy and credible, and that they make sure that the whole community is represented within their library. And that means having LGBTQ books.
If community members object to the inclusion of certain books, there are formal ways to request their removal, involving a review committee and verifying that the person appealing has actually read the book in question. But recently, she says, people have come to board meetings, whether it’s a library board meeting or a school board meeting, and they’ve said, Here’s a list of 300 books. We want them all removed from your library. And it’s the wrong channel, but they’re strong and their voices carry.
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