March 4, 2015
Good news in Ferguson: the public library hires a new children’s librarian
by Kirsten Reach
In November and December, the Ferguson Public Library served as a community center. Though protests raged and schools closed down, librarians came to work, providing a shelter for those in need and working to help children process Michael Brown‘s shooting. The library became a safe space to stay, grieve, reflect, and discuss.
The challenge? Ferguson Public Library had just one full-time staff member.
This week, in the wake of another shooting in Los Angeles, and the research released today about the role of racial bias in Ferguson policing, it’s worth sharing a small bit of good news from Ferguson.
The library has just made an important hire: Amy Randazzo, a local resident who has been working in the Ferguson-Florissant School District after-school program, as well as at the University City Public Library, where she serves as a reference librarian. Though the funds for her initial hiring were crowd-sourced, her appointment as children’s librarian is not a temporary position. The board has promised to keep her on full-time.
Randazzo told Lisa Peet at Library Journal:
It does feel a little different, knowing that I have this job due to some very generous people, and that I’m not only serving our patrons and our community but also them, to an extent. As for job security, Scott has reassured me that they will find a way to keep this position going after the donations run out. For now, I’m just going to focus on doing the best job I can and on serving our community.
The library has an annual budget of $400,000, and annual donations are typically around $3,000, according to library director Scott Bonner. The library received more than $350,000, and used the moment to call attention to local organizations that need national support, including Operation Food Search, Ferguson Food Pantry, and St. Louis Food Bank.
In a February interview with Andrew Albanese at Publishers Weekly, Bonner explains how the library came into the spotlight:
Monday morning, a local arts teacher at one of the elementary schools in Ferguson came in and said, “I’ve got a few teachers, and if you’ve got a few empty tables, we’d like to do some tutoring.” Before she even got the next sentence out, I jumped. “Heck yes!” I said. “Let’s get as many teachers in here as you want.”
. . . Continuing education, right—that’s part of what libraries do.
The library received the Martin Luther King Drum Major for Service Award in January. But Bonner says libraries around the country are doing exactly this work, every day:
In the end, what the media caught in Ferguson was just libraries being libraries. I appreciate the heck out of people saying you’re doing a great job, and every time I hear it I want to say thank you. At the same time, I think librarians that have dealt with things like Hurricane Katrina, or with earthquakes, and that kind of stuff, they have done a lot more than what we’re doing. We’re just being a library. We’re doing community-focused programming, and that is just normal stuff. That we became such a big story is a testament to, for one the contrast between Ferguson’s image in the media and what the library was doing, but also to how little some in the media know about libraries, right? A lot of reporters were like “you’re doing what? I’ve never heard of such a thing!” But this is what libraries all over country do every day.
What’s coming up for Randazzo? Her first projects will be working with StoryCorps, and helping to add all of the newly donated books to the library catalog.
Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.