If you really want to ponder the value of libraries these days – to communities, to citizens and to society in general, consider the Ferguson (MO) Public Library. Their response during recent events there speaks volumes for libraries and civilizations, and provides lessons for all of us on so many levels.
We’ve all been following the events happening in Ferguson since August, when a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teen.
When the beginning of the school year was put on hold there because of obvious safety concerns, Ferguson Public Library Director Scott Bonner worked with teachers and a host of volunteers to offer math, science, and arts activities for school aged children at the library.
The effort, which helped hundreds of kids, was expanded to other libraries and locations and was aided by local organizations who offered everything from free lunches to additional cultural programming. Library Journal provided some good coverage.
The library, located on the edge of where protests were occurring, was able to safely stay open every day. Not only was it a place for students to go, but anyone in the community seeking respite from the turmoil outside. Signs were posted around the building that read, “During difficult times, the library is a quiet oasis where we can catch our breath, learn, and think about what to do next.”
What a powerful message for us to all to remember.
The events in Ferguson have sparked heated debates on a national level, and St. Louis has a lot of healing and work to do, but one thing we can all agree on is that when a community is in crisis, libraries on the edge have the opportunity, and perhaps even a duty, to respond appropriately and to be a sanctuary — a “quiet oasis” — for all.
There’s been lots of coverage of the Ferguson Public Library — far more than most libraries ever get, especially ones of this size.
Library Director Scott Bonner’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) postings on reddit (well worth a look) and so is one author’s response to all of this.
In so many ways, even though the Ferguson Public Library’s actions have been exemplary, what they’ve done and continue to do is very much what most libraries do all the time, every day, for the communities they serve — in times of crisis and in ordinary times too — just without as much fanfare.
Thanks to Megan McCarthy, editor of the New Jersey Library Assoc. Newsletter for some of the above.