Ferguson library, a community pillar during unrest, gets $350,000 in donations

Donations to the Ferguson Municipal Public Library have flooded in from around the country in recent weeks, almost matching the library's annual budget.

J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP/File
Sisters Yasmin Ousley, 10, left, Corionna King, 12 and Keiris Ousley, 3, look for books at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library in Ferguson, Mo., in November. Contributions have soared since Nov. 24, when the library decided to stay open despite protests over a grand jury's decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

Amid the tensions that have gripped the city of Ferguson in the two weeks since a grand jury decided not to indict former police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, a beacon of stability has emerged to serve the community: the Ferguson public library. Despite the unrest, it has stayed open. 

Since the grand jury decision, people from around the country have been donating books and money to the Ferguson Municipal Public Library.

On Monday, library director Scott Bonner announced the library had received more than $350,000 in donations, nearly matching the library's annual budget of $400,000. Mr. Bonner, the only full-time librarian, has 12 part-time staff members.

Of the influx of donations, he wrote by e-mail to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "The Board is meeting tonight to work out next steps and make sure every penny is accounted for and worked into a plan."

While schools were forced to close after the decision was announced, the library stayed open, maintaining regular hours and acting as an "ad-hoc school." Bonner explained in a recent interview that he hopes to build on the communal space the library has fostered in the past weeks. 

"I am hoping to expand the library’s offerings to better meet the public library mission of supporting continuing education, enhancing cultural literacy, and serving as a center or nexus for the community itself," he said.

Bonner is also looking to hire a full-time children's librarian who can work on programming, a goal that may soon come to fruition, Ashley Ford, a reporter with Buzzfeed who helped inspire the flood of donations, tweeted last month. 

To some reporters covering the protests that erupted in Ferguson in the wake of the grand jury decision, the library provided "the one consistent place they could count on," Ms. Ford told the Post-Dispatch. She quickly became a strong proponent for providing aid to the library. The night of the decision she took to Twitter to voice her support and encouraged others to do the same.

The idea went viral.

"This has been the first time I've been able to help anything in such a large way," she said. However, she credits the many donors, not herself, as being the ones to strengthen the library and maintain it as an important community pillar in times of turmoil. 

"If I sparked it, everyone else was the fire," she told the Post-Dispatch. 

Many notable authors have been donating signed copies of books to the library. For example, young-adult author Joelle Charbonneau has been urging fellow authors to donate via Hope Through Stories, established to send books to the children of Ferguson. Other authors who are donating include "The Fault in Our Stars" author John Green; Veronica Roth, author of the "Divergent" trilogy; Charlaine Harris, creator of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries; and Jay Asher, author of "Thirteen Reasons Why." 

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