The public will be heard: a lesson from Patmos Library

What did we learn from a failed millage for a West Michigan library?

Voters in a West Michigan township are teaching administrators of their public library who works for whom.

When community members complained of books with LGBTQ themes at Patmos Library in Ottawa County’s Jamestown Township, library officials refused to remove them, reports the Detroit Free Press.

What followed was a millage renewal that failed. The public spoke, and it voted no. In so doing, voters took away 84% of the Patmos Library budget.

Library officials will try another, smaller millage in November, but the Freep reports that if that efforts fails, too, the library will probably close. Given the margin of the August defeat, 62.5% opposed to 37.5% in favor, a yes vote in November will be difficult for the library system to win.

“LGBTQ themes” attracted breathless national headlines. But the story of the Patmos Library is about who funds government — taxpayers — what’s done by government officials in their name, and what happens when the two conflict.

The community spoke out against books it didn’t like. At issue are 90 books from a collection of 67,000, Bridge Michigan reports. The director of the Patmos Library, and her interim replacement, have both resigned in recent months, Bridge reports.

The library’s board spoke up, arguing that its duty to the broader public outweighed the protests of a vocal few.

“They’re protesting all LGBTQ books that are on our shelves,” Larry Walton, the president of the Patmos library board, told the Freep. “They want it to ban books, which is unacceptable. We, the board, will not ban the books.”

Of course, the books would not be banned, and they would still be available through other channels. Just not at the library of a community that has specifically asked for their removal.

These positions apparently leave no middle to meet in. Depending on what happens in November, there might not be a Patmos Library. Why?

Did anyone ever imagine that the town librarian’s decisions are final, as when someone takes a hand off a moved chess piece?

Did the public ever imagine it would have no input in what appears on library shelves?

Was it really the plan that taxpayers should fund the library, have no say in it, and then continue to fund it whenever millage-renewal time comes up?

Government employees serve the public. Not themselves. Their choices are not supreme. Their judgment is not infallible.

Listen to the public, or the public will make its voice heard at the ballot box. That's the lesson of Patmos Library.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.