December 3, 2014

Ferguson Municipal Public Library stays open through a hard week, receives $300K in donations


Sign in front of the Ferguson Public Library, via Twitter.

Sign in front of the Ferguson Public Library, via Twitter.

Nothing in Ferguson has been resolved in the week since the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown. But some brave librarians have stepped up to make the local library a safe community center in the wake of the news.

As photos of tanks and burning cars started trending online, attention mounted for one calm and welcoming voice from — who else? — a librarian:

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Ferguson librarians asked local rioters to leave the premises the night of the ruling, and no damage was done to the building. The library opened for regular hours the next morning, even though schools were closed. Staffers offered insurance assistance for local businesses and a safe space for the town of 21,000 to take shelter, spreading the word with the humble hashtag #whatlibrariesdo:

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More than 10,000 people have demonstrated their support for the community in donations to the public library, adding up to over $300,000. The Ferguson Municipal Public Library has just one full-time staff member, and an annual budget of $400,000. Annual donations are typically around $3,000, according to library director Scott Bonner.

The library has used funds to purchase “healing kits” for the children in the community, including books that will help them process traumatic events, writes Elise Hu of NPR. Bonner aspires to hire a full-time children’s librarian with the funds, too. The library has used its moment in the national spotlight to call attention to local organizations that need national support, including Operation Food SearchFerguson Food Pantry, and St. Louis Food Bank.

The dedication of the staff in this library is amazing. In an AMA for Reddit last week, Bonner said, “We have only had to close one day, August 11th, and I paid the staff. When staff call in [because they’re afraid to go to work], we treat it like sick day.”

Notably, author John Green chimed into the AMA after Bonner recommended The Fault in Our Stars to a Redditor in need of some young adult titles. Green offered to donate signed copies of his books to the library:

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Angie Manfredi, head of youth services for the Los Alamos County Library System, also put together a wishlist for the library at Powell’s. The library is still accepting monetary donations or mailed books here. Hope they can bring on a second librarian full-time.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.