Michigan Town’s only library could be closed after fight over LGBTQ+ books | Team Cansler

Many Jamestown, Michigan residents depend on the city’s library to homeschool children, but this resource is running out of money.

The Patmos Library in Jamestown, Michigan — a town of about 8,600 near Grand Rapids — faces a chapter of uncertainty.

In November, the city voted against a millage, or property, rate that would have funded the library for the next 10 years, leaving many wondering how the library can stay open without taxpayers’ money.

The reason for the cut in support was a dispute over the library’s refusal to remove a handful of LGBTQ-related books.

“We will close in September 2024,” said a member of the Patmos Library Board. “We have to close the doors of the library because we don’t have any more money. When we run out of money, we’re done. Point.”

People crowded the library for the first board meeting this week as about 56% of voters opposed funding. Community members took turns turning to the room – some in support of the result, others dismayed by the censorship and the future of the library.

Some comments and questions from local residents included, “How does the board intend to address future book challenges and potential litigation?” and

“We deserve to have a library that represents all people, all people in this community, even if they are a minority.”

As library officials and community members work to figure out what’s next, many families have been left in limbo. Historically, Jamestown has been home to many families who have chosen to home school their children, with the library playing a crucial role in supporting this process.

“Most of the community is like conservative, religious, like Calvinist, Reformed Dutch Americans,” said Connor Cook, a former Jamestown resident. “Just as a matter of tradition, many people homeschool their families. I was homeschooled. So for us, the library was a mix of fun and work.”

Cook, now a medical student, grew up in Jamestown. As a teenager, he spent a few summers volunteering at the library.

“There’s literally only one thing in town: it’s the Patmos Library,” Cook said. “It’s the only public facility. It was a place that was safe for people like me, and there aren’t many of those in West Michigan. So I think it’s really important in this discussion. It wasn’t until college that people knew I was gay.”

Local residents who challenged the library cited LGBTQ books, including the bestseller Gender Queer, A Memoir. But Cook says this vote and the campaigns that have led to it send a dark message to LGBTQ children growing up in the community.

“For me, if it was quietly homophobic, it was isolating,” Cook said. “I think there’s something they experience that’s worse when it’s like there’s a sign on every corner. This is the next level. I didn’t have that as a kid. That scares me.”

Jamestown is among a number of communities across the United States that are fighting for books.

“It’s not a new phenomenon, but what we’re seeing over the past year is more coordination and organization and alignment, not just to the same books in many places across the country, but to longer lists of books,” said Jonathan Friedman, the director of Free Speech and educational programs at PEN America.

According to PEN America — a nonprofit literature and free speech organization — as of July, 41% of the books contested in libraries and school districts across the country are LGBTQ-related.

“Often it’s not clear if anyone is reading the books,” Friedman said. “They may just get a snippet of a book online, or they may be told that this is a book to be upset about, and then complaints come to school districts on that basis alone.”

Part of the problem is that there is no official process for making a decision on contested books.

“We need a process for these books,” Friedman said. “No one would, I don’t know, find a book guilty without some kind of trial.”

But it’s an idea that’s easier said than done.

“I think the library can use a little judgment before putting the books on the shelves,” said one resident at the board meeting. “This makes a lot more sense to me than defunding and closing the library.”

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