Every year, voters from small towns and big cities alike decide on ballot measures that affect libraries. This year was no different—and as in past years, American Libraries and the Public Library Association have partnered to look at some of the wins and losses across the country.
While libraries notched notable victories in 2022, some failed measures reflect broader cultural and economic shifts. One alarming trend: Organized groups of politically driven voters who oppose libraries carrying materials written by, about, and for LBGTQ people are banding together to reject levies that fund libraries—and fighting to get referenda on the ballot that defund libraries altogether.
In October, voters in Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska, were able to stave off efforts by an anti-LGBTQ group that would have crippled Ketchikan Public Library’s budget. But on Election Day in Jamestown Township, Michigan, and Craighead County, Arkansas, two groups were successful in using the ballot to defund their local libraries over materials they found objectionable. How this current wave of censorship will affect funding in the long term remains unclear.
This final report represents only a sample of the many ballot measures that appeared in 2022. Vote tallies were accurate as of press time. Look for this article in our January/February 2023 issue of American Libraries.
On October 4, Ketchikan Gateway Borough residents rejected Proposition 2—a measure that would have defunded Ketchikan Public Library by removing a 0.7-mill tax on properties outside city limits that provides the library with $500,000 of its budget—with 56% of voters opposed. KRBD-FM reported that the proposition was filed by a former borough assembly member on behalf of a group that objected to LGBTQ books and programming at the library.
On November 8, voters passed two millage proposals that would drop property tax rates from 2 mills to 1 mill and decrease funding for Craighead County–Jonesboro Public Library. Both the Craighead County millage (by a tally of 5,626–3,520) and the Jonesboro city millage (with a vote of 9,017–8,969) were lowered, effectively halving funding for the library system. A group called Citizens Taxed Enough, which has accused the library of making available “sexually explicit” material to children, led the effort to get these referenda on the ballot.
On May 24, Little Rock voters considered a proposal that would reduce the capital improvement tax rate, lowering the millage from 1.8 to 1.3 mills and allowing Central Arkansas Library System to refinance and extend current bonds for the bookmobile and other resources. The reduction passed, with 68% of voters in favor.
On June 7, voters in Oakland approved Measure C, extending for 30 years an existing parcel tax that provides the city’s public library system with $18 million every year, or 40% of its budget. The measure passed 65,362–14,000.
Pasadena voters on November 8 were asked to weigh in on Measure L, a services continuation tax that would generate $2.8 million annually for Pasadena Public Library for 15 years. The measure passed widely with 39,849 in favor and 7,241 opposed.
On November 8, San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) saw its Library Preservation Fund renewed for another 25 years—an update from its current term of 15 years—by a vote of 238,585–50,342. The ballot measure also included a charter amendment that would ensure SFPL’s main library and 27 branches would be open 1,400 hours per week systemwide.
With more than 53% in favor, Boulder County residents on November 8 approved Measure 6C, a proposal that would create a new library district and institute a 3.5-mill property tax to fund Boulder Public Library.
A $39 million bond that would fully cover the construction of a new, 75,000-square-foot Manchester Public Library passed 11,511–6,670 on November 8. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2023, once designs are approved.
All votes listed in this section refer to Illinois’ June 28 primary.
White Oak Library District voters from Crest Hill, Lockport, and Romeoville failed to pass a tax increase that would have expanded the library’s operating hours and services. The 0.19-mill increase was defeated 4,886–3,928.
Village of Millstadt and Millstadt school district voters rejected a referendum that would have annexed unserved territory to the Millstadt Library District and provide funding for the construction of a new library. The measure failed 1,841–863.
All votes listed in this section refer to Iowa’s September 13 special election.
Residents in Slater failed to approve a $2.5 million general obligation bond to fund a new library and community center. While nearly 52% voted in approval, the measure required a 60% supermajority to pass.
Story City voters approved two ballot measures affecting Bertha Bartlett Public Library: With more than 73% in favor, voters extended an existing capital improvements reserve levy for another 10 years, which would allow for a building expansion. With nearly 75% in favor, voters decided to expand the library board from five to seven members.
In Beauregard Parish, voters were asked on April 30 to consider the continuation of a 7.85-mill levy over a period of 10 years for the maintenance and operation of public libraries. The measure passed 1,649–723.
On November 8, voters rejected a referendum that would have provided $12.9 million for the expansion of Scarborough Public Library by a vote of 7,097–4,817.
At a special town meeting on October 24, Swansea residents voted 297–127 to approve $19 million in funding for the renovation and expansion of its public library. The vote met the necessary two-thirds threshold to pass.
On August 2, voters in Allendale Township passed by a vote of 1,429–1,380 a six-year millage of 0.3 mills that would provide operational funding for the public library.
By a tally of 1,870–1,374, residents of Fraser on August 2 passed a new 20-year millage at a rate of 1 mill, replacing a previous millage that had been in place and unchanged since 1963. Fraser Public Library will put the funds toward building issues, technology, and programming.
Grand Ledge voters on August 2 passed a 10-year, 1.2-mill levy for Grand Ledge Area District Library, 2,794–1,503. The levy represents nearly 90% of the library’s annual budget.
Voters on August 2 rejected by a tally of 1,904–1,141 the renewal of a property tax millage that would have provided Patmos Library in Jamestown Township with 84% of its $245,000 annual budget. Multiple news outlets, including Detroit Free Press and Bridge Michigan, reported that a group of residents campaigned against the millage because the library would not remove LGBTQ materials from its collection. On November 8, voters were again asked to approve library funding with a 0.6-mill proposal over 10 years that would have covered renewal of the previously authorized millage as well as a new millage. Despite the library receiving support and donations from around the world, the levy failed 3,060–2,427. Patmos Library Board President Larry Walton said the library will likely run out of money by 2024, Bridge Michigan reported November 9. The Michigan Library Association released a statement on November 14 in which it called Patmos Library’s defunding “a local tragedy with national implications.”
Capital Area District Libraries in Lansing reported that a measure to restore the district’s millage rate to 1.56 mills passed 33,961–15,550 on August 2. For the past two years, the millage rate was rolled back to 1.55 mills as a provision of the Headlee Amendment to the Constitution of Michigan. The increase will help the library system cover operational costs, such as staffing and technology.
On November 8, Marquette Charter Township voters renewed a 1-mill tax to support Peter White Public Library, 1,689–506.
Tuscola County voters on August 2 approved a 10-year, 1.25-mill tax benefitting Bullard Sanford Memorial Library in Vassar by a vote of 1,319–558.
On May 5, nearly 80% of voters in Batavia approved a tax levy increase of $21,865 for Richmond Memorial Library’s budget. This is the first levy increase the library has seen in three years.
Canton Central School District voters approved a $26,364 funding increase—amounting to 0.89 mills—for Canton Free Library on May 17. The increase passed 354–76.
On May 3, voters in the Gloversville Enlarged School District approved a $553,695 tax levy (equating to roughly 0.06 mills) for Gloversville Public Library 139–55. Most of the funds will go toward staff salaries and benefits.
Kingston voters approved on September 20 a 25-year, $14 million bond to fund renovations at Kingston Library (362–75) as well as a $1 million tax levy for the library’s 2023 operating budget (388–54).
On May 17, voters in the Lowville Academy and Central School District approved a $20,000 funding increase for Lowville Public Library and a $5,000 funding increase for William H. Bush Memorial Library in Martinsburg by a vote of 387–99. The tax rate will go up approximately 0.04 mills to cover these increases.
At a special district meeting on October 18, Minisink Valley Central School District (MVCSD) residents voted against a proposition that would have increased school taxes by 1% for the establishment of Minisink Valley Public Library, at a budget of $543,500. The measure was defeated 2,162–395. MVCSD is the only school district in Orange County that does not have access to a public library.
In July, Greensboro voters passed a $70 million parks and recreation bond that would create a joint-use facility combining Windsor Recreation Center and the Vance H. Chavis branch of Greensboro Public Library, among other projects. The referendum was approved with nearly 67% of voters in favor.
Belmont County voters on November 8 passed a 1-mill continuing levy—rather than a 5-year levy, as placed on the ballot in the past—for Belmont County District Library by a tally of 7,802–3,328.
On May 3, voters approved a six-year renewal of a 4.5-mill operating levy for Grandview Heights Public Library by a tally of 1,709–271.
A five-year, 3.7-mill tax for Toledo–Lucas County Public Library was renewed 91,597–36,238 on November 8. The levy accounts for 55% of the library’s annual operating budget.
By a count of 7,244–2,354, voters on May 3 renewed a 2-mill operating levy and passed a 1-mill increase for 10 years that would provide Upper Arlington Public Library with $5.3 million in funding annually. The combined levy will go toward operational costs, including wages, materials, and utilities.
On November 8, a five-year, 1-mill renewal levy for Wadsworth Public Library was approved 8,064–3,297.
Wyandot County and Seneca County voters passed a 1.75-mill renewal levy for Dorcas Carey Public Library on November 8 by a tally of 1,325–351. The tax will generate about $169,722 for the library each year.
Voters passed a five-year, 1.05-mill option levy for Union Carnegie Public Library on November 8 with 65% in favor. The levy replaces a 1.21-mill option levy that was set to expire in 2023. Funds will be used to maintain staffing and operating hours.
On May 17, Tillamook County residents renewed a five-year, 0.65-mill levy for Tillamook County Library that was set to expire in June. The measure passed 5,572–3,557. The levy accounts for more than 95% of revenue for the six-location system.
A five-year local option levy for Warrenton Community Library that would have increased the tax rate from 0.33 to 0.38 mills failed 1,257–1,186 on November 8.
Irwin, North Irwin, and North Huntingdon residents struck down a referendum on November 8 that would have cut a levy supporting Norwin Public Library from 1.2 mills to 0.2 mills. The measure, which was placed on the ballot by a group called Friends of the Norwin Library Reform, failed 12,163–6,941.
On May 7, voters in Fort Worth approved Proposition C, a measure that would issue $12.5 million in public securities (and impose taxes to pay the interest and principal on these securities) to provide for a new library branch on the city’s northwest side. The referendum won 17,639–11,335.
Voters in Castle Rock rejected a 0.3-mill excess tax levy for its public library on August 2. Over the past three years, levies have failed a total of six times, with the library being forced to depend entirely on donations. More than 58% voted in favor, but the proposition required a supermajority of 60% to pass.
On May 10, a five-year levy renewal that would have benefitted Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library failed to pass. Though voters were in favor 8,284–6,404, the measure did not meet a threshold of 60% plus one. The levy, which provides the library system with 30% of its funding, reappeared in a reworded format on the November 8 ballot and passed 16,508–8,321. The levy will provide the library with about $580,431 annually; some funds will be directed toward the construction of a new building in Williamstown.