Romance author Nora Roberts helps save MI library funded by LGBTQ books |
This could make a great final chapter of a book: A doomed library is saved by small checks from book lovers and a huge donation from an internationally acclaimed author whose novels are among the most popular on library shelves. .
Romance novelist Nora Roberts donated $50,000 on Sunday to help keep the doors open at a Michigan library that was canceled in early August in a spat over LGBTQ-themed books.
The famed author’s donation pushed the cumulative total raised by two GoFundMe campaigns to more than $245,000, the amount the Patmos Library was set to lose in 2023 due to the loss of taxpayer funding in Jamestown Township, N.B. Ottawa County. The outpouring of donations followed Bridge Michigan’s story of the taxpayer revolt.
In a comment left Sunday on the GoFundMe page she contributed to, Roberts wrote that she would have given more, but “50,000 is the limit GoFundMe allows for donations. If you haven’t reached your goal, contact – Me. I’ll catch up with the rest.
Donations made so far by more than 4,000 people from as far away as Australia are expected to be enough to pay for utilities and staff salaries until at least 2024.
“There was a lot of text going around this morning” after receiving Roberts’ donation, Larry Walton, chairman of the Patmos Library Board, said in Bridge Michigan on Sunday. “We are extremely grateful for the generous donation from Nora Roberts and the thousands of others who donated.”
The jaw-dropping fundraiser is a stunning turnaround for a small West Michigan library that until recently seemed doomed to fall victim to simmering culture wars in this conservative community.
On August 2, an operational mile to support the township library was beaten 62% to 37%. This mileage – a tax on landowners – provides 84% of the Patmos Library’s annual budget. Without the $245,000 millage provides each year, the library was expected to close by fall 2023.
A ‘vote no’ campaign was organized by community members upset about the LGBTQ-themed graphic novels in the library. One, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” is the author’s coming-of-age story as a non-binary, and includes illustrations of sex acts. Several other books that community members have protested against, including “Kiss Number 8” and “Spinning,” are stories of teenage boys in same-sex relationships but do not include illustrations of sex acts.
The library refused to remove the books, but moved “Gender Queer” behind the counter so library patrons would have to ask.
Patmos Library Director Amber McLain resigned this spring following demands from some residents to remove books, telling Bridge she had been harassed online and accused of indoctrinating children. Acting manager Matthew Lawrence later resigned for similar reasons.
Before the mileage vote, a large yard sign a few blocks from the library accused library staff of “grooming” children.
Bridge’s column about the defeated mile brought national media attention to the library, which would be the first in Michigan to lose taxpayer support because of LGBTQ books. Jesse Dillman, the GoFundMe campaign coordinator who raised more than $240,000 on Monday, said he started the campaign hoping to raise a few thousand dollars for the library and was stunned by the outpouring of support. A separate GoFundMe campaign had raised over $7,000 as of Monday.
While donations have come from across the United States and a few foreign countries, Nora Roberts is the most well-known donor and by far the biggest 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 over 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, serving a township of 10,000, has 144 books by Nora Roberts in its collection, compared to about 90 books in total on LGBTQ themes.
“Libraries are treasure troves, opening 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 these stories. I find the idea of librarians – who provide community services beyond reading – facing threats and attacks, a community library facing funding both appalling and sad.
“It is an honor for me to defend the library of Patmos and its staff.”
While donor contributions have been encouraging and will keep the library open for now, such funding is not a long-term solution, said Walton, chairman of the board. The library will ask voters a second time to approve an operating mile, in the November election.
Library volunteers will have more resources to fight for a mile this time. For the August vote, a mileage committee had “less than $1,000” to spend on marketing, Walton said. Now, a small portion of the money raised in GoFundMe campaigns will be used to “communicate with the community” 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]hold it together,” he said.
Reviewers of LGBTQ-themed graphic novels claim that they try to shield their children from images and ideas they deem inappropriate for their age.
On the day of the August mile vote, Amanda Ensing, one of the organizers of the Vote No campaign, said funding the library is “not a political issue, it’s a biblical issue”.
Dean Smith, chairman of the Jamestown Township Planning Board, recently told Bridge that the vote to fund the library was a backlash from the conservative community to a culture some see as antagonistic to their beliefs.
“People are just sick of this stuff,” Smith said.
Today, the influx of donations from across the country along with the support of one of the nation’s best-known authors has reinforced the library staff’s commitment to preserving controversial books, Walton said.
“Books will stay exactly where they are on the shelves,” Walton said.
“There were a lot of text messages going around this morning. We are extremely grateful for the generous donation from Nora Roberts and the thousands of others who donated. Larry Walton, Chairman of the Patmos Library Board