The staggering fundraiser is a surprising change for a small western Michigan library that, until recently, seemed destined to be the victim of simmering culture wars in this conservative community.
On August 2, an operational mill to support the city’s library was defeated 62 percent to 37 percent. That millage, a tax on property owners, provides 84 percent of the Patmos Library’s annual budget. Without the $245,000 that millage provides annually, the library was expected to close by the fall of 2023.
Community members organized a “vote no” campaign upset about LGBTQ-themed graphic novels at the library. One, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” is the author’s coming-of-age story as non-binary and includes illustrations of sexual acts. Several other books that community members protested, including “Kiss Number 8” and “Spinning,” are stories of teens in same-sex relationships, but do not include illustrations of sexual acts.
The library refused to remove the books, but moved “Gender Queer” behind the counter so library patrons would have to request it.
Patmos library director Amber McLain resigned this spring due to demand by some residents to remove the books, telling Bridge she had been harassed online and accused of indoctrinating children. Interim director Matthew Lawrence later resigned for similar reasons.
Before the vote on millage, a large sign in the yard a few blocks from the library accused library staff of “grooming” children.
Bridge’s chronicle of the defeated mileage brought national media attention to the library, which is believed to be the first in Michigan to lose taxpayer support due to LGBTQ books. Jesse Dillman, the coordinator of the GoFundMe campaign that had raised more than $240,000 as of Monday, said he launched the campaign hoping to raise a few thousand dollars for the library and was surprised by the outpouring of support. A separate GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $7,000 as of Monday.
While donations come from all over the United States and some foreign countries, Nora Roberts is the most well-known donor and by far the largest contributor.
Nora Roberts, 71, is the author of more than 225 romance novels under her name and under the pseudonym JD Robb. She has sold more than 500 million books worldwide. Forbes estimates the Maryland novelist’s net worth at $420 million. She has donated more than $50 million to various causes, including through the Nora Roberts Foundation, which supports literacy, children’s programs, the arts, and humanitarian efforts.
The Patmos Library, which serves a township of 10,000 people, has 144 Nora Roberts books in its collection, compared to a total of 90 LGBTQ-themed books.
“Libraries are treasure houses that open the door to books and stories for everyone,” Roberts said Sunday in a statement emailed to Bridge Michigan. Librarians, to me, are the keepers of those stories. I find the idea of librarians, who offer community services beyond reading, facing threats and attacks, a community library facing defunding, both appalling and sad.
“It is an honor for me to defend the Patmos Library and its staff.”
While donor contributions have been encouraging and will allow the library to stay open for now, such funding is not a long-term solution, said Walton, chairman of the board. The library will ask voters for a second time to approve an operational mill, in the November election.
Library volunteers will have more resources to fight for a million this time. For the August vote, a millimeter committee had “less than $1,000” to spend on marketing, Walton said. Now, a small portion of the money raised from the GoFundMe campaigns will be used to “let the community know” ahead of the November vote.
The majority of the funds will go towards library operating expenses, a huge relief for Walton and the library staff. “We were just trying [to]keep it together,” he said.
Critics of LGBTQ-themed graphic novels argue that they are trying to protect their children from images and ideas that they feel are inappropriate for their age.
On the day of the August milling vote, Amanda Ensing, one of the organizers of the Vote No campaign, said defunding the library “is not a political issue, it’s a biblical issue.”