Ferguson library offers hope in community rattled by violence

In the midst of a community rattled by violence, a library has become the symbol of resilience.
While local schools have been forced to shut their doors and businesses have been boarded up in Ferguson, Missouri, the Ferguson Municipal Public Library has stayed open, offering support for a community on edge.
"We are a public library, we serve the whole public. Every human being in Ferguson is welcome to come in those doors and we will help them however we can," library director Scott Bonner told Mash.
Just before St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch made the announcement Monday night that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the public library vowed to keep its doors opened.
And it has. Despite two nights of violence in Ferguson, which saw dozens of arrests, arson and tear gas being fired, the library has continued to provide services. On Tuesday, a full day-school program for children from the Ferguson-Florissant School district was held, after schools closed.
"It's to help parents; many of them just can’t drop their jobs," Bonner said. "And if schools cancel classes next week, then we'll do it again."
A team of volunteers, many of whom are teachers from the school district, prepared for the program when they knew a grand jury decision was imminent. A similar program was held in August, when protests first started, forcing school closures. Ferguson Municipal Public Library is also offering services to businesses that have been damaged in the riots.
After Tuesday night's riots saw an additional 45 people arrested in Ferguson, the library was quick to reassure patrons that its door would be open on Wednesday. Scott Bonner, his wife Janessa Hall, who is volunteering her time, and another staff member have been updating the library's social media account around the clock to keep community members in the loop.
Ferguson Municipal Public Library is making daily assessments on whether it is safe to open to the public, according to Bonner. Hall says she is proud of her husband's devotion to the library.
"He stayed at the library the first night after the decision, and kept two groups of people from kicking in the library door," she told Mash. "Luckily, they left quickly when he showed up to shoo them away."
National support for Ferguson Municipal Public Library has quickly grown. The library's social media account has been flooded with messages of support, and it has even set up a bitcoin donation page.

Ferguson Municipal Public Library isn't the only library in the community that has kept its doors opened. The unassociated St. Louis County Library has also made a point of staying open, offering activities at three of its branches that neighbor the Ferguson community for children who are currently out of school.
Magic shows, crafts and other activities keep the kids entertained, and alleviate pressure for caregivers and parents.
"The goal was to just open out doors, allow kids to come in and have a safe place to express themselves, and just be kids," said St. Louis County Library communications manager Jennifer McBride.

Juggling Jeff at Lewis & Clark Branch

One of the performers, Juggling Jeff, entertains kids at the Lewis and Clark branch of the St. Louis Public Library on Nov. 25.

But the services are not just restricted to children. The library has partnered with Lutheran Family and Children's Services to offer free counseling services for members of the community.
"Its a walk-in basis, people can come in, go up to the circulation desk, ask one of our staff members to see counselors, and we will get them set up," McBride told Mash. "We did it at our Florissant branch in August, and it was very well received."
Bonner feels that his library is an example of the power that Ferguson residents have to unite for change.
"l'll say this: Whenever you give the people of Ferguson a chance to find a common cause and then rally around something they agree on, they do. So when the kids needed help, they came from all over Ferguson to help out," he said.
"I believe we can and we will come together in the end, and that is going to be the longterm power that shapes Ferguson."

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