A Michigan town's public library had been on the brink of closing after residents — furious over a few LGBTQ books on its shelves — voted to remove its funding.
But on Sunday, acclaimed romance novelist Nora Roberts stepped in and donated $50,000, effectively saving the library's doors from permanently closing.
On Aug. 2, Jamestown voted to defund the Patmos Library, the result of a campaign by the small town's conservative Christian residents. Their ire was over books on LGBTQ topics, which they said meant the library was "grooming" their children, according to the Washington Post.
The movement escalated into frightening harassment against the librarians themselves, with some quitting as a result. Their head librarian, who is openly queer, quit after a woman stormed into the library, filming on her phone while yelling, “Where is she? Where is the pink-haired freak? Where is the pedophile librarian?”
After the vote to defund, a resident set up a GoFundMe as a last-ditch effort to save the Patmos Library.
"The Patmos Library in Jamestown is a core part of the community fabric," the organizer wrote. "I firmly believe most residents here don't share these views and desire to continue funding our local library."
Donations steadily rolled in throughout August, but hitting their goal seemed like it could be a long shot. But on Sunday, that all changed — Roberts, the author of more than 200 romance novels, donated $50,000 to the cause.
"Libraries and librarians should be valued and celebrated, never attacked and demeaned," Roberts wrote. "50k is the limit GoFundMe allows for donations. If you’re short of your goal, please contact me. I’ll make up the rest."
Roberts' donation helped them reach their $245,000 goal, and in the days since, they've surpassed it. Donations have been pouring in from all over, with many sharing why the cause means so much to them. "Every time you ban a book about LGTBQ topics, you could be eroding a LGTBQ child's sense of well being," one donor wrote.
In a blog post Monday, Roberts's publicist, Laura Reeth, said the novelist was "appalled" after reading the Washington Post story about the library and said she wanted to find a way to help. "Yesterday, Nora made a donation that will make all the difference to the Fund Patmos Library campaign," Reeth wrote.
A librarian at Patmos Library confirmed details of the donation to BuzzFeed News, saying they are "very grateful."
"There were a lot of texts flying around this morning,” Larry Walton, the library's board president, told Bridge Michigan about the moment staff saw they'd reached their goal, which should keep them afloat until at least 2024. “We are extremely grateful for Nora Roberts’ generous donation, and to the thousands of others who donated.”
In a statement to Bridge Michigan, Roberts said it was an "honor for me to stand up for the Patmos Library and its staff."
“Libraries are treasures, opening the door to books and stories for all,” Roberts said. “Librarians, to me, are the guardians of those stories. I find the idea of librarians — who offer community services beyond reading — facing threats and attacks, a community library facing defunding both appalling and sad."
Pushes to ban books — particularly ones on topics like LGBTQ and racial identity — are climbing in the US. According to an April report by the American Libraries Association, which tracks book banning attempts, 2021 had the "highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling the list 20 years ago." Many other libraries across the US have faced conservative attacks, often with similar pushes to ban books on LGBTQ topics.
Baseless accusations of "grooming" and "pedophilia" have become something of a moral panic among conservatives; once at the center of the fringe QAnon conspiracy theory, it has become a mainstream right-wing talking point. Most commonly, it's used as an attack against LGBTQ rights, smearing LGBTQ individuals as child predators. It's appeared on Fox News and has even been used by high-ranking conservative lawmakers and their staff. Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, which bans teachers from speaking in class about sexual orientation and gender identity, was nicknamed the "Anti-Grooming Bill" by one of Gov. Ron DeSantis's top staffers. And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has called Democrats "the party of pedophiles."