Supporting Ferguson's Public Library Is Probably the Smartest Thing You Can Do

The public institution is staying open amid the troubles but lacks funds for the long haul.

(Photo: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Nov 25, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

As Americans across the nation watched businesses in Ferguson, Missouri, go up in flames on Monday night, Twitter users pointed out a tangible way anyone around the world can help the community: by supporting the Ferguson Municipal Public Library.

A link to the library’s website, which has a PayPal donation button in the upper right corner, has been tweeted and retweeted hundreds of times. By 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, more than 1,200 people had donated to the institution. Library director Scott Bonner called the support “staggering.”

When Ferguson was rocked by violent protests after Michael Brown's killing in August, public schools were forced to close. So the Ferguson Municipal Public Library spent a week being a school.

“Over the course of that week we went from 20 kids to like 200 kids in the library,” said Bonner. Now, schools in the 21,200-person town are once again closed to ensure the safety of children. That means for a second time the library is stepping up to provide a safe educational space for the community.

On an average day, the library serves about 50 residents, says Bonner. But an hour after opening its doors on Tuesday morning, there were already about 20 patrons, a mix of kids and adults. “We expect that it will snowball,” Bonner said. “It’s a matter of getting word out.”

Keeping the library’s doors open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and providing free Wi-Fi, food, and educational programming is a commitment the 12-member staff is willing to make—despite the facility's suffering significant budget cuts since the Great Recession that began in 2007.

In 2008, “our total budget dropped from $600,000 to $400,000 per year, which was a pretty huge drop. We had to cut a lot of staff at that time,” Bonner said. When the library opened its doors to the community’s children in August, he explained, “someone said, ‘Hey, you need to get a PayPal button on there,' so I did. There have been a few donations here and there—until last night, when it kinda exploded.”

Helping to support the library can make a difference in Ferguson. When Bonner, the only full-time employee and the only staff member with a master’s in library science, started working there, no consistent programming was being offered. “We cobbled together a summer reading program,” he said.

Along with adding staff members—a children’s librarian would be nice—Bonner hopes to use the donations to turn the location into a full-service community library offering a variety of programming. He also plans to expand the range of literature available for checkout.

“We’ve gotten a lot of great books donated in the children’s section that cover topics like civil rights, civil engagement, and recovering from trauma,” said Bonner. “I’d like to build a similar collection in the [young adult] and also the adult sections just in immediate response to what’s going on.”

Bonner is also looking for locals who are able to volunteer and be a part of revitalizing the library, and thus the entire Ferguson community.

“At this point what I’m looking for is people from the community who have a passion they’d like to share and who want to make a program around it—like if someone is really into gardening and they want to come in and do a series on how to garden,” he said.

“We love Ferguson. We love every human being in Ferguson. Our doors are wide open, and we will help any way we can,” he added. “We’re doing what libraries do. Libraries do things to better the community all the time.”