Libraries exist to help people find information that solve problems, answer questions, or otherwise address important individual and community interests and needs. I’d like to give thanks to the Ferguson Municipal Public Library in Missouri for giving all libraries a lesson in precisely this kind of community support. Last week in Ferguson Missouri, schools closed following a grand jury’s decision not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown. Nonetheless, the local public library pledged to stay open, providing a safe space for schoolchildren from the Ferguson-Florissant School district with educational activities provided by working and retired volunteer teachers. As it announced on Facebook and Twitter last Monday, “Because of the Grand Jury decision, many organizations will be closed, but the Ferguson Municipal Public Library will stay open as long as it is safe for patrons and staff. If the Ferguson-Florissant schools close, we will be hosting activities for the children. We will do everything in our power to serve our community. Stay strong and love each other.”
As events unfolded last week, the library updated its information via social media that schools would indeed be closed, and asked for donations and volunteers to assist in the activities it had planned for the next few days. It added, “Please attend tomorrow evening’s book trade event at the library. Our teen council has worked very hard to put this together, and we would hate to disappoint these enthusiastic young people.” A team of volunteers, many of whom are teachers from the school district, prepared for a temporary educational program when they knew a grand jury decision was imminent. A similar program was held back in August, when protests first started, forcing school closures. In the past few months, the library has actively worked to diversify its collection by embracing a Books For Ferguson book drive. Counseling has also been available at the library for area residents who are having trouble coping with recent violence and services to businesses that have been damaged in the riots have also been made available.
Library director Scott Bonner couldn’t have imagined what he was in for when he assumed his post just last July. But in August, he told Library Journal, “We have a dramatic moment, and a dramatic circumstance caught the nation’s attention, but this is exactly what libraries do every day.” And what do libraries do? Among many other things, create a safe and welcoming space, where everyone is welcome to come and meet, to learn, to explore. In a country wracked with grief and strife, our libraries are still an oasis of community.
Thank you, Ferguson Municipal Library. Thank you, libraries everywhere.
Contributed by Caitlin Bernstein, Librarian at Touro College Midwood campus.