Saturday, December 27, 2014

Heroes to Me: Ferguson Public Library

I got a kick out of the advertisements this week for the TNT show The Librarians,  featuring young librarians as super heroes.  While not as dramatic and absent the explosions, real life librarians are often truly the super heroes of our society. Case in point: the Ferguson, Missouri Municipal Public Library.

The racial tensions that began in Ferguson, Missouri last August with the shooting death of 18 year old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer actually go back to the very beginnings of our nation. Racism is one of the disheartening aspects of American society that weighs on us as a nation. But this story isn’t about racism. It is about the role of libraries in supporting and healing our national psyche.  And the role that the Ferguson library is playing in the healing of that community is a perfect example of how important libraries are, and why their funding should go up in times of economic strife, rather than be cut.

I first heard about the Ferguson library in November on the show of my favorite MSNBC news pundit, Rachel Maddow. Steve Kornacki did the reporting in this 3 ½ minute bit.

Basically, in the midst of all the upheaval and strife that was going on in that community in August of 2014 and again in November, so much so that public schools and many businesses were forced to close, the Ferguson Municipal Public Library announced that they would remain open offering “Wi-fi, water, rest and knowledge” to anyone in need. Children, especially, were invited to spend the day in a setting supervised by over 50 volunteers comprised of parents, teachers, and retirees. Free lunches were provided, along with story times. In November, the library also made space available to businesses looking for a way to preserve records and file insurance claims for damage done during the violence of that month’s protests.

As Steve Kornacki said, “Just by being open this week, by doing pretty much what they do every day, by doing it amidst incredible upheaval in the larger community, by doing that the Ferguson library made a difference…”

A short Weekends with Alex Witt piece (also on MSNBC)  focused on the national response to the story of the Ferguson library. 

That alone is heartening: that all over our nation people will reach out to one small community library to offer support in words and in donations of books and money.  As of this reporting, more than $400,000 was contributed through the donate button on the library’s website, most of it in small amounts from people who care. 

Rachel herself, on December 23rd, featured the Ferguson library in her “Best New Thing in the World Today” segment.  But what she focused on was the fact that the library received so many donated books that they did not have enough personnel to catalogue them all for use by their patrons.  

The best new thing in the world, according the Rachel Maddow, are the librarians from communities as far away as the East Coast who went to Ferguson over the Christmas holidays and volunteered their time to help catalogue the books.

The story of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, the donations that flooded in during a time of need, and the people who stepped up—both locally and from far away—to volunteer, points out one of the wonderful things about America amidst so much that is disheartening and disturbing.  The soul of our nation can be found in many places at many different times, but it can be found any day of the week in any of our local public libraries.  

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