Director Scott Bonner considered closing the doors of Ferguson’s library as protests and riots broke out in the St. Louis suburb and he saw police with tear gas nearing.
Instead, he kept the building open — and now it’s been voted Library Journal and Gale’s 2015 “Library of the Year.”
Bonner said the library was only closed for two days. He quickly realized it had a purpose amid the turmoil.
Schools might be closed, but the library wouldn’t be. His staff took to social media, organizing more than 100 volunteers who helped shape the library into a place of refuge for students whose classes had been canceled and other members of the community.
“People from all over Ferguson showed up to take care of the kids, and it was a common cause,” Bonner told CNN.
In the days after the August 9, 2014, shooting death of Michael Brown, and after a grand jury decided in November not to charge the officer who killed him, tensions ran high on the streets of the Missouri community.
But inside the library, children were given “healing kits” — backpacks stuffed with books, worksheets and teddy bears.
Images of violence in Ferguson’s streets were broadcast around the world. Bonner says he saw what the world didn’t: residents coming together to do good things for the community.
“There are 50 sides to this story. All these differences — race issues, police issues, alliances, there’s no one unified thing,” he said. “People are trying to reassess and figure out what the new normal is.”
The library was awarded $10,000, which will go to programming and responding to the needs of the citizens. It also received a grant to replace all technology equipment.
Bonner said he’s proud that others noticed his library’s efforts.
“Libraries usually nominate themselves,” he said. “We didn’t.”
Instead, Steven V. Potter, director and CEO of the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Missouri, put the Ferguson library in the running for the prize. Then 100 directors of notable American libraries voted.
In Library Journal’s statement announcing the award, Potter said the Ferguson library had provided an example for others to live up to.
“It behaved as all of us hope that we would behave if confronted by a similar situation,” he said.
Bonner said the award shows the purpose of libraries in communities is stronger than ever.
“What we did in Ferguson that caught people’s attention is something people and libraries do every day,” he said. “Libraries provide the means to make you a better you, and your community a better community.”