Efforts to Defund Libraries Gain Momentum in Michigan and Arkansas
Increased support is needed to protect public libraries from devastating budget cuts.
At the end of the 2022 election cycle, libraries across the country found themselves in the crosshairs of far-right censorship organizations. Growing out of the increasingly virulent book banning efforts spurred on by anti-CRT and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, these political assaults included ugly and personalized attacks on the librarians themselves. At least two of these initiatives succeeded.
The Patmos Library Loses Funding
Outside Grand Rapids, the Patmos Library in Jamestown Charter Township, MI, lost its bid to have its basic levy renewed. Voters rejected the library’s second and last attempt to secure funding before their original levy ended on December 31, 2022.
The community had been in upheaval as a local group attempted to remove certain LGBTQ+ titles from the library’s catalog. Citizens became convinced that the material was pornographic in nature and constituted a form of pedophiliac grooming.
Librarians and board members were accused of distributing the materials to minors and intentionally “grooming” them. Signs slandering library employees and its board appeared all over the township, and the library was forced to close early at least once due to staff safety concerns.
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While none of the ninety titles in question were actually pornographic, nor did they contain themes of pedophilia, the efforts succeeded in convincing voters that the library needed to be shut down.
The pro-library group Save the Patmos Library organized to campaign for the library. They put in a valiant effort to help counteract the message that the library was circulating harmful books. Unfortunately, the rejected ten-year levy was necessary to continue library operations.
Between the August and November elections, two local advocates started GoFundMe campaigns and raised nearly $250,000 to keep the library open, including a $50,000 donation from author and library champion Nora Roberts. But the library can’t run on donations alone. The Patmos Library board projects it will run out of emergency funding in September 2024. Without another election to garner new taxpayer support, the library will likely close.
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Craighead County Jonesboro Library Defunded by Half
Meanwhile, the Craighead County Jonesboro Library in Arkansas saw its funding gutted by 50 percent at the November 2022 election. A successful last-minute ballot initiative to defund the library was spearheaded by a censorship group that had spent over eighteen months targeting LGBTQ+-themed content in the library’s collection. Predictably, part of the censorship and defunding campaign included personal attacks on librarians and library workers, labeling them “pornographers and pedophiles” because they refused to capitulate to homophobic and transphobic censorship efforts.
A Save the Library campaign was launched, but unfortunately, the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric ultimately succeeded, and the defunding initiative passed narrowly in the city and by a wide margin in the county.
The library has since begun lay-offs to offset the loss of funds.
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