[This letter was sent out to many of the people who donated to our library in 2014, excluding those who have not donated in the past 5 years.]
Greetings from Ferguson, Missouri!
I am writing to update you about what we’ve been doing at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library this year. As with the whole world, 2021 has been difficult and fraught. But libraries bring stability to help their communities through hard times, and we have been fortunate enough to have great staff members who were willing to step up and do more for our community.
There is one huge change from our pandemic interventions that we have made permanent — we’ve largely made all our services free. We no longer have overdue fines. Faxes are now free. Black and white prints are now free. Copies are now free. We saw how thankful our patrons were when we did not charge them as they sent 50 page faxes to government agencies for rent relief, or made copies to fax in for unemployment benefits. That ability to help those that needed it the most, and the good will from our folks, was worth far more than recouping the costs of these services from the pockets of those who can afford it least. So now it’s permanent.
Our big push right now is helping our community cross the digital divide. This refers to the fact that many folks do not have the resources or skill sets to be persistently or productively online. As the world goes digital, it leaves them behind. This, of course, is most pronounced in poor neighborhoods, areas with lower education levels, and rural communities. Ferguson has a range of income levels, but our poverty levels are high — 23% in poverty before the pandemic, and I shudder to think where we are now. Our median income is $40,000 a year, 17,000 less than the Missouri state median income. About 20% of our adults have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, compared to about 35% statewide.
Consequently, instead of trying to push everything online, we spent the pandemic focused on helping people in the parking lot at first, then in the foyer, and then, as circumstances improved, in the building. Our people were not online, so we absolutely had to reach out to our people.
But now we must help our folks mount that digital divide. So, we’re working on some projects to tackle that need. We’ve increased our supply of wifi hotspots for people to use at home– from about 15 to around 65, allowing them to be checked out for a semester at a time, because our kids need to get school work done online. We’re adding tablets to check out. We’re putting wifi in public parks. We are purchasing a second fax/copy/email machine, because we have lines of people who still need to get forms to government agencies and cannot do that from home. We are looking for a location and a partner to add services on the eastern end of Ferguson. And, perhaps in part because it sings to my heart, we are looking at making an e-bike book cart, powerful enough to handle the hills of Ferguson. These projects require investment in new equipment, procedures, and staff. They are concrete, practical ways to help our community get online… in their own homes, schools, and parks. These are exciting changes!
We’ve made other changes, too. We have a new circulation desk that is more centrally placed and lets staff more easily greet patrons as they come in the door. We moved our Preschool Storytimes, our Readings on Race book club, and Adulting 101 classes to an online format. As circumstances allow, we are visiting local schools, daycares, and nursing homes, with strict safety protocols in place. Our take-home family craft kits have been a huge, unexpected success, with dozens and dozens of kits going home with patrons every week and the numbers keep growing. For everything we do inside the library — checkouts, faxing, using PCs and the like — we have an alternate method for those who don’t feel safe coming inside yet. We are continuing to require masks for staff and patrons alike. And we are using our side rooms, which have their own ventilation, for partnerships like rent relief programs and special school district teaching sessions.
We are not a passive library. We push out into the community. We care a lot about helping people where they live, and how they need the help.
We hope you are staying safe, and getting any and all the help you need. Give your time when you can, let others lean on you, and allow yourself to lean on others. We will get through this. Until then, our little library will continue being as open as we safely can, and doing as much as we possibly can.
Don’t forget to support your local public library! They’re doing everything they can for your community, too.
If you want to help us again, please drop by http://tinyurl.com/FMPLDonation and donate! We promise to use your donations effectively.
As always, THANK YOU!
Scott Bonner, Director
Ferguson Municipal Public Library District
@fergusonlibrary on Twitter
35 N Florissant Rd, Ferguson, MO 63135