A Pennsylvania Public Library Had Funding Cut Because of LGBTQ+ Books. Then, An Olympian Stepped In.
A reminder that libraries are on the ballot today in several states across the US.
Defunding public libraries over books in the collection continues to grow as a tactic by those who believe having LGBTQ+ books is inappropriate. Last year, Patmos Library in Jamestown, Michigan, lost its funding after a well-coordinated campaign claimed the public library had obscene materials and the library would not remove the LGBTQ+ books they demanded be pulled (those titles made up .015% of the entire collection). Earlier this year, Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, Virginia, faced a similar fate as 53 individuals flooded the library with book removal requests and took their complaints to the county board of supervisors who initially withheld 75% of the library's funding. It has since been restored. Similar funding challenges to public libraries over LGBTQ+ materials have occurred this year at the Dayton Memorial Library in Washington state–the ballot measure to close the library over this was deemed unconstitutional–and the mayor in Ozark, Alabama hoped to exert his authority to withhold funds from the local public library there, as well.
Last week, in a story that went almost completely unnoticed, the Fulton Township supervisors decided at the end of their meeting to revoke their annual donation to the Quarryville Public Library in Pennsylvania. The consensus was that becuse the library provides LGBTQ+ material, it is not protecting the children within its community.
“We will not be giving them any money,” board President Scott Osborne said at the meeting. “That’s the long and short of that.” Osborne claimed that the supervisors knew about inappropriate material in the library but when asked for details, could neither remember the titles nor any information about the situation that led to the supervisors becoming concerned.
Quarryville Public Library serves several small communities and its annual budget is $329,000–$53,000 of it comes from municipal donations, including this one from Fulton Township. Though it might not seem significant, that $1,000 for the library has a significant return on investment, somewhere between $5 and $9 per single dollar.
What makes this story more bizarre is the response from one of the leaders within the Quarryville Public Library itself. The library board's vice president Jewell Shivery assured the county that the library would implement new policies and protections in order to withhold LGBTQ+ materials from young readers. Shivery sent a letter to every community the library serves stating that "we are not doing a good enough job at protecting the innocence of the children in our community," and "We want you to know that we are committed to addressing this issue and implementing policies that will keep books of LGTBQ content out of the hands of children unless their parents wish to put them there," according to Lancaster Online.
The whole board then followed up with another letter, this time noting that library policies, the American Library Association, and the Library System of Lancaster County enforced censorship laws and would not allow books to be pulled from the library over individual objections. That, another board member said, was their "preferred" letter response, not the one that came from Shivery.
In November 2022, another library in the same system as Quarryville faced funding cuts. Though the Ephrata Public Library in Akron will be funded in 2024, the explanation by the Borough Council for those proposed cuts mirrors that of the Quarryville Library Board Members and Township supervisors. The community is "very conservative," and as such, should not have books featuring queer characters or content.
Osborne believes he speaks on behalf of the entire community, too–he believes there would be no blowback from withholding the money and that their "very conservative" values would matter most.
There was not only pushback and disagreement. One former community member not only shed light on the story–much of which was buried behind paywalls–but he stepped up to cover the $1,000 donation gap. That community member happened to be Johnny Weir, two-time Olympic figure skater. He posted a message to his fans on Instagram, letting them know he would be matching the Fulton Township donation for as long as he can to keep the library's funding where it has been. More, he urged his followers to do the same and support the library which has been instrumental in helping support the whole of the community by providing access to LGBTQ+ books.
If you are reading this story on November 7, 2023, and you're in a state with elections, it is vital you get to the polls today if you have not already. Democracy is on the ballot. School board elections are going to impact how much we continue to see book bans emerge, and several public libraries may see their futures determined today. This includes Pella Public Library in Pella, Iowa, where residents will decide whether the library retains control of the materials in its collection or city council members–who have no training, experience, knowledge, or expertise in librarianship and are indeed sympathetic to right-wing actors like Moms For Liberty–will be the ones to decide what does and does not get to belong in the public library.
May Weir be an example of standing up for public goods, for educating people who are not away of what is happening both in Quarryville and everywhere else across the country, and for not standing by hoping someone else does something to make change.
Kids can't simply haul themselves to the public library for materials banned at their schools when those public libraries are closed, too.