Jamestown voters reject Patmos Library millage a second time over LGBTQ material


GVL / Bri Conway

Emma Armijo, Staff Writer

Following the results of the November midterm election in Michigan, a millage to fund the Patmos Library in Jamestown has been rejected a second time due to controversy around LGBTQ reading material in its collection.

The Patmos Library, located just 12 minutes from Grand Valley State University, has received national attention over its struggle to keep its doors open.

Conflict arose after library staff refused to remove LGBTQ literature from the library at patrons’ requests. Some community members feel books containing ‘non-traditional’ relationships should not be on shelves in the library, calling them offensive and inappropriate for library patrons.

The first tax levy, proposed in the August primary elections, resulted in the library losing nearly 85% of funding.

Patmos Library staff held firm, continuing to keep the LGBTQ books available for checkout. Some books, such as Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” were relocated behind a counter and only available upon request.

In hope that more residents would vote to support the library, the millage was again put onto the ballot this November.

According to the Ottawa County Clerk’s Office, nearly 56% of voters in Jamestown voted against the renewal, with a final vote of 3,060 to 2,427.

The rejection of this levy has removed key funding for the Patmos library, meaning the only library in the city of Jamestown will likely have to close its doors.

Once government funding falls away, the library will be required to sustain itself from private donations.

Some residents have claimed housing LGBTQ books in the library is considered “grooming children,” with inappropriate exposure to LGBTQ communities. These allegations, as well as negative media coverage and negative community reaction, has led to library staff leaving their positions.

A GoFundMe page for the Patmos Library set up by Jamestown resident Jesse Dillman in conjunction with the Every Library Institute has raised more than $260,000 in donations from across the nation.

Dillman said that the handful of books in the library about LGBTQ experiences, among the several thousand books in the library’s collection, are in the Young Adult or Adult sections or behind the counter, per library policy.

Dillman also said that one can compare LGBTQ books to coverage of Christianity in the library.

“In my view, the LGBT literature at Patmos Library has as much right to be in a public library as the vast Christian literature section,” Dillman said. “Public libraries are not just for Christians, they are there to serve anyone and everyone, and they are a core expression of the First Amendment. Any attack on our public libraries is an attack on the very foundations of America.”

Dillman said he has become a member of the Yes Vote Committee after starting the GoFundMe page and will continue to be involved in any pro-free-speech efforts to help save the Patmos Library.

“We fight for our local library because it is a core part of our community, and I believe public spaces are vital for our social and mental growth,” Dillman said. “Also, my kids love the books and events at Patmos Library and the friends they’ve made there.”

The story has been covered by national news outlets, such as The Washington Post, and the GoFundMe has even received donations from #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts.

Jamestown residents and GVSU community members are at odds concerning what is best for the city.

In the “Hudsonville, Jenison, Georgetown and Jamestown Informed” Facebook group, local resident James Allen Troost wrote a post saying that the conservative Jamestown community will not be bullied into conformity.

“The library leadership was not willing to compromise, so now you get what we call ‘Dutch Justice,’” Troost said. “Now nobody plays; concede or move out of our community.”

Another local resident, Lisa Wnuk, posted that she feels patrons should be able to make their own decisions about what to engage with in the library.

“If you don’t want your child reading certain topics, teach them what is acceptable,” Wnuk said. “Be a parent, not a bully that takes away a great resource for people in the community.”

A 2015 Pew survey found that two-thirds of Americans report that closing their local library would have a major impact on their community.

The Patmos Library has served the city of Jamestown as its primary library for many years. While staff say they are humbled by the support they’ve received, the financial assistance they have gotten in donations are not enough to sustain the needs of the library long-term.