Residents of a small town in western Michigan helped raise almost $100,000 for their local library after it was defunded over the inclusion of LGBTQ books.
Primary voters in Jamestown Township, a community 20 miles east of Lake Michigan, rejected a proposal last week to renew tax funds to support the Patmos Library in nearby Hudsonville that serves Jamestown and the surrounding area. The rejection, which passed with nearly two-thirds voter approval, eliminates 84% of the public library’s annual budget, or $245,000.
The library has been in the crosshairs of some conservative residents since last November, when a small group of parents raised concerns over the availability of LGBTQ-related, local NBC affiliate WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan reported. While the library reportedly agreed to place a few of the flagged titles behind the circulation desk, it was not enough to persuade the voters to continue to fund the library.
Larry Walton, the library’s board president, told local news site Bridge Michigan that he was not expecting the loss of funds and that the library would likely run out of money late next year without those tax dollars.
“The library is the center of the community,” he said. “For individuals to be short-sighted to close that down over opposing LGBTQ is very disappointing.”
Walton did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
Two days after the vote, Jesse Dillman, a Jamestown resident and father of two, launched an online fundraiser to help raise the $245,000 to keep the library open.
“I am very passionate about this, and I have people that are behind me to do this,” he said in an interview. “I think I have to do it now, because the iron is hot. If this is going to happen, it’s going to happen now.”
As of Thursday morning, approximately 1,800 people had contributed more than $90,000. While many of those donors are local, people from as far away as Australia have contributed, Dillman said.
One donor, Michigan librarian Beth Pierson, wrote on the fundraising page: “I’m saddened and scared by what I’m seeing across the country regarding the attempts to limit freedom of access to information. Thank you for stepping up to do the right thing for the Patmos Library!”
Another donor, Georgia resident Shereen Mendelson, wrote, “People who ban books are never written well in history. You have my support from Georgia!”
More support came from a second donation page created by Michelle Barrows, also a resident of Jamestown. As of Thursday morning, she had raised almost $5,000.
Efforts to discontinue funding for the library can also be found on social media. In May, a private Facebook group called Jamestown Conservatives was launched. The group, which as of Thursday morning had 158 members, states that it was “created to help others of the community to be aware of the pushed agenda of explicit sexual content that is being infiltrated into our local libraries aiming toward our children.” The page also states that it stands to “keep our children safe” and “keep the nuclear family intact as God designed.”
The page administrator, Lauren Elyse, did not respond to a request for comment.
The controversy in Jamestown is part of a larger national debate over access to LGBTQ books in public libraries and schools. This debate has accelerated over the past year, with the American Library Association issuing a statement in November warning of a “dramatic uptick in book challenges and outright removal of books from libraries.” The association said LGBTQ books and books by Black authors were being targeted in particular. In 2021, five of the 10 most challenged and banned books in the United States were flagged because of their LGBTQ content, according to the group’s annual Top 10 Most Challenged Books list.
During a two-hour-long Patmos Library board meeting Monday, residents spoke both in favor of and against funding the library, WOOD-TV reported that most of the speakers were in favor.
Among the speakers was a former library employee.
“The purpose of a public library is to serve the public,” she said. “That includes everyone of all backgrounds, beliefs and interests. That means having material available from all viewpoints and topics, not what just makes some people comfortable. If you don’t agree with something, don’t check it out. That’s the beauty of a library. You have the choice to come in by yourself or your family and make the selections that best fit you.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, the board voted unanimously to place the issue of funding on the town’s November ballot.
Following Monday’s meeting, Dillman said he’s optimistic that the library will be able to get its funding back. In addition to continuing his fundraising efforts, he said he signed up to be on an independent town committee to help secure tax dollars for the library.