Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ferguson Library Offers Normalcy in Anomalous Times

The city of Ferguson hasn't been the same since August 9, 2014. On that day, an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in this suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. In the wake of this incident, Ferguson has been a hotbed of unrest. Throughout months of tumult, the city's public library has been steadfast at being the calm at the center of the raging storm.
Image via @EKrauss/Twitter

Ferguson Public Library stayed open while local businesses and schools closed as protests sprung up and National Guard troops arrived on the scene. The library's director and its only full-time librarian, Scott Bonner, had only been at Ferguson Public Library since July. Yet amid escalating tensions and chaos, Bonner stepped up to let the community know that Ferguson Public Library was keeping its doors open to serve the people of Ferguson. Through social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, and through the efforts of volunteers, the posting of signage around the library, and word of mouth, news spread that Ferguson Public Library would be an oasis of normalcy in increasingly anomalous times.

In response to classes at area schools being cancelled due to unrest in the streets, Ferguson Public Library allowed for a makeshift school to be set up inside. Collaborating with Carrie Pace, an art teacher at local Walnut Grove Elementary who proposed the idea of a pop-up school at the library, Bonner and teachers, volunteers, and staffers enabled the start of informal classes. In an interview with the Magpie Librarian, Bonner said:

"We made an ad-hoc school! I offered the library's space, put out metaphorical fires, and played taskmaster to the press, and the teachers and volunteers made an actual, working school. We spread across two locations, the Ferguson Library and the First Baptist Church up the street. We had 200 students across locations at our peak — before we established the second location, we had 150 at the library alone on Wednesday, and wasn't that a crazy day! We had educational organizations from across St. Louis clamoring to help, including SpringboardSTL, St. Louis Science Center, MO Dept of Conservation, and many more."

Meanwhile, Ferguson Public Library continued to provide routine library services, including access to computers and the Internet, circulation of books and other library materials, story times for small children, crafts workshops, teen meetups, book swaps, and exhibits supporting the arts in Ferguson. The library did all this and more for the community of Ferguson on a limited budget. Speaking to BuzzFeed, Bonner said, "Libraries are famous for squeezing every dollar, making the most of what we have." He revealed in another interview that "Ferguson library's budget decreased about $200,000 after the recession." But as word got out about what Bonner and Ferguson Public Library were doing for the community during this time of crisis, donations in the form of money and books - including kid's books from Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon - began to pour in.

On Monday, November 24, 2014, the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who killed Brown was broadcast, setting off riots and other forms of civic unrest in the city of Ferguson. Much of the city was effectively shut down, but Ferguson Public Library let the world know that it was remaining open. In an announcement made on Facebook, the library stated:

The public's reaction to this announcement was swift, with people mobilizing primarily through Twitter to encourage donations to Ferguson Public Library. Soon, celebrities tweeted their support for the donation effort. Among these celebrities was author Neil Gaiman, who tweeted:

Since these tweets, Ferguson Public Library has seen an incredible spike in donations. In just two days, the library received nearly $200,000 in donations. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "The money donated so far adds up to almost half of the library's annual budget (about $400,000) and Bonner hopes it will allow him to hire another full-time librarian to work with children and programming." Discussing the amount of money that has come from supporters, Bonner told the Dispatch, "It doesn't seem real yet. I had no idea there was anything like that coming."

And the donations are continuing to come in. If you would like to show your support for Ferguson Public Library, you can donate at THIS LINK. The library is also accepting donations in the form of bitcoins. Bitcoin donations to Ferguson Public Library can be made at THIS LINK. If you prefer to send donations to a physical address, you can, at:

"I think that when there's all these negative stories," Bonner said in an interview with NBC News, "a community comes together unified behind a common cause... it makes people remember that, you know, we're all human beings and we're in this together."

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