Voters in sixteen states were asked to decide on the future of their libraries last night in over 55 elections tracked by EveryLibrary, the national political action committee for libraries. Overall, support for library funding renewals, building projects, and district measures were high. From Ohio and Michigan to Colorado, Texas, and California, voters endorsed funding measures during a very uncertain civic and social climate for libraries. However, two libraries were defunded following significant censorship and book ban campaigns and face significant cuts or closure. With reporting slowed down by mail-in counting in some jurisdictions, a full count will have to wait.
Voters rejected a second attempt by the Patmos Library in Jamestown Charter Township, MI., to renew their basic levy. The library levy was defeated in August and this election day was the last opportunity to renew the levy before it sunsets on December 31st. The community has been at war with itself over attempts by a local group to ban certain GLBT books. Large yard signs accusing the librarians and board members of distributing obscenity and being "groomers" popped up all over the Township. While the pro-library Save the Patmos Library campaign made a significant effort to engage voters and neighbors, the renewal is on the way to defeat. A GoFundMe effort following the August vote saw over $200,000 in donations, but the 10-year levy renewal was needed to keep the library open. The library board will be meeting next week to decide how to proceed.
The Craighead County Jonesboro Library in Arkansas was the target of a last-minute citizen initiative to defund the library by 50%. That initiative followed over 18 months of a campaign by censors to ban books and materials with GLBT themes and stories. Like in many libraries facing strident anti-access campaigns, the librarians and library workers were labeled "pornographers and pedophiles" because of the books on their shelves. When the ballot initiative launched, the rhetoric shifted from book bans to unfounded accusations of fiscal irresponsibility. A positive Save the Library campaign quickly sprung up quickly to defend the library and attempt to set the record straight, but the defunding measure passed narrowly in the City and by a wide margin in the county and the library levy will be cut from 2 mils to 1 mil.
On an advisory referendum for Glen Carbon Library in southern Illinois, voters were asked if they would approve the use of taxpayer money by schools and libraries to sponsor drag queen storytime. Over two-thirds of voters said no to that concept. However, not all libraries with direct opposition from censorship or anti-access groups failed at the ballot. At least two other libraries weathered recent campaigns by pro-censorship forces against their ballot measures. Despite direct opposition by a pro-censorship group, voters in West Virginia approved a levy to build or renovate three libraries and fund operations for the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library. Likewise, voters turned down Proposal 2, a citizen initiative to defund the Ketchikan Public Library in October that had originated from a pro-censorship group. The effort to tie library funding to censorship efforts is likely just beginning in our country.
Most library elections were not the target of opposition. Election night reports show almost all levy renewals or renewal increases for libraries passed. The majority of elections were held in Ohio and Michigan where levy sunsets require voters to reauthorize funding on a regular cycle. Renewals passed across Ohio for libraries like the Ridgemont Public Library, the Wadsworth Public Library, and the Meigs County District Public Library. In Michigan, Chikaming Township voters will contribute funding to three libraries, the Hudson Carnegie District Library renewed its levy, and the Harrison Township Library expanded theirs, among others. Unfortunately, voters rejected a new levy for the Ionia Community Library for the fifth time in several years.
Several major American cities voted for municipal funding or bonds for library operations or construction. Houston voters endorsed Proposition F, a $26 million public improvement bond. Denver passed Referred Question 2L, a new levy that will generate $36 million annually. San Francisco voted for Measure F which will continue the Library Preservation Fund charter through 2048. Voters across the Toledo-Lucas County Library service area passed Issue 11, a renewal of a 3.7 mil 5-year operating levy. These outcomes continue a trend of large urban libraries being endorsed and supported by their voters.
In other states we saw mostly positive but mixed results. New Mexico's biennial GoBond for Libraries passed with over 62% support in Election Night returns. The General Obligation Bond funds state aid for public, academic, school, and tribal libraries. The authorized amount was increased by the legislature from $9 million to over $19 million following a campaign by library stakeholders to expand its impact. Voters in Colorado created the nation's newest library district by voting to change the Boulder Public Library from a city to a self-governing library. Elsewhere in Colorado, voters endorsed a levy for the South Routt Library District but turned down one for the John C. Fremont Library. On the West Coast, the cities of Pasadena and Santa Clara along with Marin County appear to have passed their measure funding. California requires supermajorities of between 55% and 66.7% to pass library measures, so results need to be verified as counting proceeds. In Oregon, voters turned down a new $2 city fee to expand library services for the Free Library.
Library construction projects saw mixed results. Lyon Township, MI., will be building a new library after voters ratified a $12.8 million project. This follows the defeat of a similar project in 2018. In Chesterfield Township, MI., voters rejected a building project that first went to vote in 2020. The town of Belmont, MA., approved a $39 million debt extension to construct a new library. Salem, OR., approved a bond package that includes $7.5 million for two mixed-use library and affordable housing projects. Last week, voters in Swansea, MA passed a $19 million bond by 14 votes at their annual Town Hall Meeting. Voters in Scarborough, ME., turned down a new building project which would have anchored an education and entertainment campus in town.
A recent survey of American voters by the EveryLibrary Institute found that 95% of Democrats, 80% of independents, and 53% of Republicans are against book bans and consider book bans when voting. Voters rank librarians twice as favorably as their governors, the Democratic Party, the GOP, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden.
It is important to note that this Election Day saw the fewest number of libraries on the ballot for any Midterm in a generation. This is likely the result of a combination of internal and external factors. During the COVID shutdown, it was very difficult for library boards to conduct long-range planning for building projects and funding measures. The current climate of censorship, book bans, and attacks on libraries also played a part in decisions not to pursue discretionary ballot initiatives. Support for libraries remains very high across the country, but the American electorate is unsettled and unsure in many places.
EveryLibrary is a national 501(c)4 political action committee for libraries. On Election Days, EveryLibrary provides pro-bono support and assistance to libraries for ballot measures, funding levys, building bonds, and other referenda. Since 2012, EveryLibrary has assisted over 125 libraries on their Election days winning 85% and securing over $1.9 billion in stable taxpayer funding. EveryLibrary also supports the future of school libraries through its SaveSchoolLibrarians.org digital campaign site and citizen engagement with state and federal policy on action.everylibrary.org. Please visit https://everylibrary.org for more information.