Lovers of free speech and books are rejoicing this week after voters in West Michigan sent a clear message to far-right book banners.
In a heartening turn of events, the famously defunded Patmos Library in Ottawa County has emerged victorious, securing taxpayer support in the Nov. 7 election after facing the threat of closure triggered by controversies surrounding LGBTQ-themed books. Voters approved the proposed millage decisively with a 63 to 37 percent margin, marking the end of one of Michigan’s most fervent culture wars over books and what we hope is the beginning of a wider effort to fight back against the nationwide, coordinated effort to censor books from libraries and schools across the country by groups like Moms for Liberty and Ottawa Impact.
The atmosphere among library supporters was one of jubilation and relief, encapsulated by Tricia Kryda, who told Bridge Michigan, “I feel like I’m going to cry. I feel like I’ve been on edge for a year and a half.” The library, which relied on 84 percent of its $250,000 budget from township property taxes, had been managing to stay afloat by tapping into $300,000 in donations raised through GoFundMe campaigns (including a $50,000 donation by bestselling author Nora Roberts) since its initial millage defeat in 2022. Even with this influx of funding, the library expected to run out of funds by the fall of 2024 if it voters rejected the three-year millage on the ballot this year.
The controversy that led to this critical juncture began in the spring of 2022 over three books in the library’s young adult graphic novel section, including "Gender Queer: A Memoir." Following the initial millage defeat in August 2022 and a subsequent loss in November, the library board underwent changes, leading to a compromise. The library will not remove any books but is adding descriptions to inside covers sourced from the Library of Congress or platforms like Amazon.
This compromise played a pivotal role in gaining support from new board members who had initially expressed concerns about LGBTQ-themed books in the library. As a gesture of unity, they supported the latest millage proposal, emphasizing the necessity of keeping the library's doors open.
Despite the tensions and opposition, the library's supporters remained resilient. Patmos Library Board President Kathy Van Zandbergen expressed gratitude to the community in a written statement. "The library will continue to be a treasured community asset, and the funding will ensure that all library services and resources will be available to our patrons," she wrote.
Tricia Kryda, a vocal advocate for the library, noted the significance of the recent vote, telling Bridge, “Maybe people saw through all the noise and decided our library is more important than fighting with each other.”