A Message from Ferguson Public Library by Scott Bonner
Editor’s Note: A couple years ago Real Pants, like so many others, contributed funds to Ferguson Public Library as we saw them standing in a very important gap. Their director, Scott Bonner, recently sent this update, and I thought it worth sharing in full, not just hoping that readers will once again support the library (if not to Ferguson’s, perhaps your own; it does always seem best to think and act locally), but also because I think Bonner’s report is hopeful and of interest.
You are amazing!
Two years ago, we at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library were doing everything we could think of to help the people of Ferguson, Missouri at a time of overwhelming need. You cared enough to notice, and cared enough to help. You recognized the special role we, as a library, can play in helping our community heal, and in bringing our community together. You were one of nearly 12,000 people who gave $10, $20, $40 or more, resulting in $450,000 of donations, all told. That was more than our yearly budget! There is a well of gratitude in me that I cannot begin to express. Thank you.
You changed what kind of library we are. We were struggling, frankly, when I started on July 1, 2014. My predecessor had watched her tax-based funding drop dramatically with the housing market, and Ferguson was on the slow end of that recovery. No more full time staff, almost no programming, and a community with real, tangible needs that a library could meet. Your donations helped us blossom, growing into a library that worked hard to meet those needs. For the last two years, we have been blessed with the chance to be a different sort of library. We are now community focused, with lots of programming, and responsive, with the freedom to run with ideas that help our people. That is all thanks to you.
But you’ll want to know some specifics. The first thing I did was hire a Children’s Services and Programming Librarian, Amy Randazzo, and she greatly increased our capacity to build responsive programs for Ferguson. That’s exactly what we needed! We increased our programming budget more than ten-fold, and now can target specific needs. Some of our best work includes, of course, opening up the library as a school in August of 2014 for a week, when the local schools were shut down. We found out then what kind of library we wanted to be, and have been chasing that vision ever since. When we saw the people of Ferguson needed to be able to tell their stories without a media filter, and that future historians would need those stories, we worked with Storycorps to record and archive the unedited voices of our people. When we saw the need for tough, informed conversations about race, we hosted the Readings on Race book club, because when different groups are talking past each other, each with their own language and set of facts, a book provides common language and shared facts. When we saw the need for young adults to have more and varied economic opportunities, we began holding computer programming classes, robotics classes, and any other program we can think of that leads to practical skills and, eventually, jobs.
We’ve also used those funds to increase our capacity to help our people. Among our own staff, we turned part time jobs into full time jobs, opening up positions for a full-time Circulation Librarian and a full-time Cataloger. With a donation from HP and help from a grant, we replaced our PCs that were – literally – held together with duct tape and wire, and expanded our capacity more than twice over in the process. Your donation also allowed us to address needs that were 20 years overdue. We put in handicapped-accessible doors, finally, and they are beautiful and slidey and wonderfully welcoming. We got new carpet – yay! – that is so much more inviting than the (frankly dangerous) patchwork of worn and ripped carpet we had before. We updated the once-grungy bathrooms with a unique design that specifically addresses the particular challenges of serving the public, a design I hope other public organizations might notice and find useful. And, we replaced some 20+ year old HVAC units.
That’s a little sampling of what we’ve done with the money you gave us. We account for every penny. We agonize over how to make the best use of it. We use it to increase our capacity to serve our people. Libraries are like that.
We continue to do the best we can for our community, and we have you to thank for that. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Again, you are amazing!
We’ve made an updated video that I hope you’ll watch, so you can see what we’ve been up to in vivid, camera-that-came-with-my-phone quality, at https://youtu.be/KeZNfoCR4Ak.
Now (yes, you knew this was coming), we want you to help us again.
We are looking at that donation money running out, and we want to extend our expanded capacity as long as we can. We are an independent library, not part of the city government, so we have to find our own opportunities to sustain the library. Therefore, we’re seeking resources from many sources, and that includes asking you for help. We know that you understand the importance of our little library, and the work we have done for the people of Ferguson. Please do help us keep this work going, if you can afford to, at http://tinyurl.com/FMPLDonation (our Paypal Donation link). Thank you.
Director, Ferguson Municipal Public Library
2015 Library of the Year
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