Despite increasing challenges to remove books, libraries strive to stay ‘open, safe and free’


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GRAND HAVEN, MI — At the Grand Haven Community Library, a reading contest and exhibit focused on books that have been banned over the years.

Nearby, also in Ottawa County, the Jamestown Township Community Library was essentially starved of funding after a controversy over a small percentage of books on the shelves.

The ongoing debate over certain books and an increase in official book challenges has hit West Michigan.

“While there is something in every library that will offend someone, everyone will find something that will offend them, that’s okay because we also want to make sure there’s something thing in every library that will be your ‘just’ book, your ‘just’ magazine, we have an audiobook for you and that you can really find that open, safe and free third space in your community,” said Katie Alphenaar, Head of references and information at the Loutit District Library in Grand Haven at MLive.

Public libraries have become the latest political battleground, where constitutional freedoms to read books with a wide range of themes and passages – even those with which some people disagree – come up against parental concern. to keep certain subjects away from children.

Those who challenge the content object to a range of themes — overtly sexual passages, LGBTQ relationships or racial justice — by wanting certain library books removed.

Alphenaar said public libraries are an essential part of maintaining free intellectual freedom while participating in the community.

“Even though the internet gives this illusion of freedom, internet access costs money, and many well-reviewed and highly educational articles and reviews are behind paywalls,” she said. “So libraries are really there to make sure everyone has free and easy access to information.”

Related: Book challenges rise as public libraries become latest political battleground

The National Microscope was launched on Jamestown Township earlier this year after Patmos Library officials refused to remove a few of its small collection of LGBTQ books from circulation. Voters responded by essentially canceling funding for the library by rescinding a 10-year operating mileage renewal in the Aug. 2 election.

“Every member of the community is a valued member of the community, and our entire collection should reflect that,” said Kaitlin McLaughlin, acting director of Patmos Library. “I understand that this community is overall a very conservative community, and I totally respect that, but we also need to accommodate those who have a different lifestyle or a different worldview, because we are the last physical place of a neutral space. .

“As a library we should have books on all subjects because everyone should be welcome.”

McLaughlin, who was recently named the library’s acting director, is the third to lead the library in a year.

His predecessors quit amid continued harassment in the Republican stronghold of Ottawa County, with some claiming the library’s practices are “preparing” children for exploitation.

A fundraiser has kept the library’s doors open this year, including a $50,000 donation from famed novelist Nora Roberts, and another attempted mileage from the Jamestown Township Library will be decided by voters in the November 8 election.

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Learn more about MLive:

See the official challenges launched to remove 13 books from the shelves of the Kent County Library

Novelist Nora Roberts’ significant donation is part of $250,000 for library canceled amid LGBTQ book controversy

Trans athletes, book bans: how school elections became political battlegrounds

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