Libraries Face Defunding

Should communities have the right to cut library funding if they deem some of its materials to be controversial?

Some communities vote for cuts in library budgets in response to “controversial materials."

As if the increasingly frequent demands to ban books and remove certain books from library bookshelves (both public and school libraries) isn’t bad enough, there’s also a growing movement to punish libraries that refuse to engage in censorship by threatening to defund them. That, of course, would leave those libraries without adequate funding to handle the myriad programs and services they provide to their communities — which their communities need. Here are just a few libraries facing these kinds of threats and actions.

Madison County Library System, Ridgeland, MS

In Mississippi, the mayor of the town of Ridgeland announced in early 2022 that he was withholding more than $100,000 in funding for the Madison County Library System until they pulled what he referred to as “homosexual material,” citing his religious beliefs as the reason why.

The library system, which promotes services such as a bookmobile, digital lab, notary service, meeting rooms, and notary service, pushed back. In April 2022, the city of Ridgeland promised to release the funds — but didn’t. The Ridgeland branch of the library system would have shut down if the city hadn’t signed an agreement in August to restore the funding.

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Patmos Library, Jamestown, MI

In late 2022, the community of Jamestown voted to withhold funding from the Patmos Library after staff refused requests to remove LGBTQ books from the shelves. Without that funding, the only library in town would have to close.

Popular author Nora Roberts stepped in and championed a GoFundMe for the library that raised more than $250,000 — but that’s not enough to keep a library staffed and running indefinitely. By the end of 2022, the library announced a permanent closing date of January 2025, but in December, it closed temporarily after the staff received threats and harassment.

Ephrata Public Library, Lancaster County, PA

In late 2022, a borough in Lancaster County voted to defund the local public library because its books didn’t align with the community’s “conservative values.” While the library had other funding sources, losing this funding would certainly have led to program reductions and possible staff layoffs.

By the end of the year, the borough voted again to fund the library — but at 53% of its original funding.

Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library, St. Mary’s, KS

In November 2022, St. Mary’s city council debated whether to renew the library’s lease (a unique form of defunding). The council had asked the library to sign a new lease with a “morals clause” that would prohibit the library from having any material that could be deemed socially, racially, or sexually divisive. If the lease wasn’t renewed, the library would have to move to another town, as there was no other space for it.

Some city commissioners even discussed starting their own library with none of the divisive material in it. However, many town residents pushed back, and the lease, without the morals clause, was extended — but only for one year.

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Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, Jonesboro, AR

Voters in Jonesboro County voted in November 2022 to reduce funding to the library by almost half. Those changes led to a reduction in staff and the number of hours open. Those who pushed the reduction in funding onto the city and county ballots were motivated by a gay pride display the library exhibited earlier in the year.

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