Sunday, February 1, 2015

The importance of libraries (and Ferguson, Missouri's in particular!)

I’m a big fan of libraries going back as far as childhood. This won’t surprise any of you who know how much I love to read. Growing up, my mom, sister and I visited our library about once a week in the summer, and I distinctly remember when I could write enough to fill out the form to get my own library card. I was probably about 7 or 8.

A year and a half ago, the latest library branch in my county near Atlanta opened up. It’s beautiful. Every time I stop in I’m amazed at how many people are in there. In that community room on the left as you go in, it’s almost never empty. I’ve walked by county commissioners’ lunches, genealogy workshops, knitting classes and book clubs going on in there. I’m glad to see that libraries are noticing that patrons sometimes want a little something different from what a library has traditionally offered.   
If you can remember back a few months to the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, over the killing of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old African American male, by a police officer, while most of the news coverage was focused on the protesters, the property damage and the police officer, did you notice that the Ferguson Library made the news?

The Ferguson library was determined to stay open to provide a place to go for people who didn’t have one and to be a pillar for this crumbling community.

According to ABC News, after Michael Brown’s death on August 9, the Ferguson Library used their social media platforms to tell Ferguson residents that they were open to provide respite for those who needed a place to go, a place to check email and a place to get a bottle of water. Their tweet read, “We are here for all of our residents. If you want to come, get water, read, check email, we are here….” That week while schoolchildren were delayed in starting their school year, people came to the library seeking a safe community. Teachers who were unable to start their school year, showed up at the library to meet their students and give lessons to any children who wanted them. One hundred and twenty children came to be with teachers that week.  

In November, a writer named Ashley Ford who lives in Brooklyn noticed this and tweeted out that her way of helping the people of Ferguson was to donate money to their library. Her idea caught fire online and was retweeted numerous times. I happened to notice it the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I kept coming back to Twitter to see people’s messages and the Ferguson Library’s tweets about how committed they are to their community.

According to the Los Angeles Times, in a matter of weeks, $350,000 had been donated to the Ferguson Library, and they have been the recipient of numerous book drives from around the country. $350,000 represents about 85% of their annual budget. With this money, for example, just this week, they have hired two full-time children’s librarians. No doubt they’ll be able to do countless other great things with this money.

The library continues to stay active on social media. Recently they've posted inspiring quotations by Martin Luther King, Jr., advertised that they have free after school tutoring and talked about their most recent award, the MLK Drum Major for Service Award, presented by President Obama.

And meanwhile, they’re still tweeting out uplifting happy messages from a town still in need of a lot of healing. For example, one of this week’s tweets has been: “Life can throw some pretty hard challenges but kids who read learn to believe in themselves.”