By Kristina Massari
Ferguson Municipal Public Library of Ferguson, MO has been named the 2015 Library of the Year by Library Journal magazine and Gale, a part of Cengage Learning. The small suburban library rose above the chaos and stepped up to provide sanctuary and resources for all in a community in crisis, and remained steadfast to that call over months of duress. The library leadership’s modest “it’s what we do” stance resonated worldwide through social media and news coverage. It placed libraries in the center of the solution, and created a model for other libraries in communities experiencing strife.
Library of the Year is a prestigious recognition that goes to a public library that profoundly demonstrates service to community, creativity, leadership and innovation in developing community programs. Nominated by over 100 U.S. library leaders, Ferguson Municipal Public Library was recognized for its outstanding commitment to service and its extraordinary role as community anchor.“We join the many in and beyond the library world who take great pride in and stand in awe of the Ferguson team’s calm commitment to its community in the face of frightening days and nights and now as they strive to foster a stronger Ferguson,” said Rebecca T. Miller, editorial director of Library Journal. “Although we would like to believe that this horrible situation is unique, it has already proven not to be, with Baltimore recently facing similar distress during protests. The library echoed Ferguson’s actions by remaining open when safe and focused on the unique community needs that emerge in these extreme circumstances.”
The Ferguson Municipal Public Library serves a community of approximately 21,000 residents, roughly a quarter of whom are living below the poverty level. Years of budget cuts had limited the library to offering basic services and as of August 2014, the library had only one full-time employee, its Director, who had been on the job just a few weeks. That month, the shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer set off a wave of protests, rioting, and looting that played out on a national stage and paralyzed the city. Some government institutions shut their doors, but the library stepped up and provided needed services for children, adults and local businesses, as well as a place of refuge for the community.
In Ferguson, when local schools delayed opening due to the riots, the library created an ad-hoc school with grade-appropriate programs staffed by volunteers and teachers. It facilitated community meetings, created healing kits to help local children cope, and hosted much needed family activities for children and adults. The library also supported local businesses–inviting in the Small Business Administration to provide emergency loans, the U.S. Secretary of State to provide document recovery and preservation, and the Missouri Department of Insurance to help businesses file claims.
“We did everything we could think of for the people of Ferguson. I wanted to look back on this time and regret saying yes too much instead of saying no too much. We supported our community and welcomed every human being in Ferguson, which is exactly what libraries do. Libraries help you become a better you, and help your community become a better community. I feel like this is really a recognition of the vital, honest work that all libraries do across the country every day,” said Scott Bonner, Director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library. “I’m very thankful to Library Journal and Gale for recognizing the important work of libraries.”
“We know libraries change lives and move communities forward,” said Paul Gazzolo, senior vice president and general manager for Gale. “The actions and unwavering commitment to community by the Ferguson library are remarkable examples of the important mission of public libraries that we are proud to support.”
The 2015 Library of the Year Award will be presented along with prize money at a reception at the American Library Association Annual Conference on June 28, 2015.
Library photos by Sid Hastings.