A Michigan Public Library May Close Due to Conservative Propaganda

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Jamestown Conservatives, a right-wing group in Jamestown Township, Michigan, is responsible for helping defund their public library. After a year-long battle with the Patmos Library, which has included the departure of the Library Director Amber McLain after a harassment campaign by the group, the library did not win its primary ballot measure to renew its millage rate (also known as the tax rate).

Throughout the town, members of the group posted signage highlighting the library’s LGBTQ+ materials. The library, which has been receiving challenges about everything from specific queer books like Gender Queer to Pride month book displays to books that have nothing to do with LGBTQ+ people, has been painted as an institution with groomers and that books in the collection are part of indoctrination efforts.

“They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires,” Amanda Ensing said of library officials, according to Bridge Michigan. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.” Ensing is one of the organizers of the conservative group.

The group passed out fliers at the local Memorial Day parade, as well as displayed lawn signs throughout the town using the “groomer” and “indoctrination” dog whistles to rally against the millage.

Patmos Library will retain its millage through the spring of 2023, but once that ends and the library uses its $23,000 reserve fund, it may need to close its doors. Larry Walton, library board president, believes that without a second initiative to pass millage, the library could close as soon as fall 2023.

Walton insists the library does not need a wakeup call from citizens, as the collection of over 60,000 items contains about 90 items with an LGBTQ+ theme. That is .015% of the collection.

“A wake-up call to what? To take LGBTQ books off the shelf and then they will give us money? What do you call that? Ransom?,” asked Walton, according to Bridge Michigan. “We stand behind the fact that our community is made up of a very diverse group of individuals, and we as a library cater to the diversity of our community.”

Social media users took to platforms like Twitter to lament the potential closing of a public library thanks to the work of groups like Jamestown Conservatives. But as much as there is to be angry about, this should sound the alarm on how vital it is to vote in local elections.

Screen shot from the Jamestown Township library millage proposal.
From the Ottawa County Election Results dashboard

Jamestown Township has about 10,000 residents, and according to poll results, a total of 3,047 residents of voting age voted on the measure. The difference between approving the millage and keeping the library afloat vs that to deny the millage was under 800 votes. If, with a conservative estimate, half of the township’s population is eligible to vote–5,000 people–the election could have been entirely different.

Instead, a vocal minority had the power to speak on behalf of all citizens. Even those who voted against the millage seem surprised their vote may mean the library shuts down.

Ottawa County, where Jamestown Township is located, has been a hotbed of censorship. “Parental Rights” have been a rallying cry of right-wing groups, demanding an end to diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings for educators, as well as an end to sex education in schools. There is an active newsletter in the county pushing “education, not indoctrination,” helping steer community conversations and action against schools and libraries and books in Ottawa County schools are regularly reported to the state’s “Mary in the Library: Michigan” group (a conservative group of book banners). Neighbors in Kent County, Michigan, have seen schools like Forest Hills become targets of radical right agendas to remove queer books and “critical race theory” from libraries and classrooms.

This is put the tip of the iceberg for the coming year in elections, in libraries, and in schools, as ultra-conservative politics from a Christian Nationalist perspective use their platforms and voices to speak on behalf of others. We will continue to see groups like Jamestown Conservatives across the country get onto public library and school boards to make decisions on the curriculum and materials all students have access to. And indeed, in the case of Patmos Library, undermine the professional expertise of librarians to not only drive them out of their jobs but to defund the institutions all together.

Until there are equally loud supporters of public institutions to counter these narratives–and show up to the polls in primaries and elections which are heavily down-ballot initiatives and representation–expect to see this play out over and over.

800 votes in a county with 34% voter turnout is why this happened. 800 voters who bought into the narrative of grooming and indoctrination within a library where fewer than 1% of the materials have any LGBTQ+ themes.