The Ferguson Public Library is just a block away from the center of demonstrations at the Ferguson Police Department. As we've reported, when violent protests this week led to the burning of more than a dozen businesses and the uncertainty caused schools to close, the library stayed open.
It has become a quiet refuge for adults and children alike in this St. Louis suburb. And the nation has taken notice. The outpouring of support for the library has reached "orders of magnitude" more than any previous amount, says library Director Scott Bonner.
He's the only full-time librarian there — and he started his job in July, just weeks before the town became an internationally known name. Bonner says the donations may allow him to hire another person to help.
For community leaders and business owners, the library has become a place to convene.
"Whenever businesses have been hit, North County Incorporated needed a meeting space, and I said, of course, yes. Small Business Administration came in and did staging of emergency loans out of the library," Bonner says. "When there's a need, we try to find a way to meet it. I have a very broad definition of librarianship."
Since the latest unrest began Monday night, more than $175,000 has poured in. More than 7,000 people had given something as of Wednesday afternoon, many in $5 and $10 amounts. Donations so far this week are 10 times what they were during protests in August.
It all started with a few tweets from the library's account, which Bonner's wife helps with in her free time.
"Before I knew it, [there were] thousands of tweets with encouragements to donate, including retweets from people such as Neil Gaiman and LeVar Burton," Bonner said.
With the donations this week, Bonner plans to purchase more "healing kits" for children to check out. The kits include books about dealing with traumatic events and a stuffed animal that they can keep.
The level of support the library has seen this week can buy even more than healing kits.
"It means we can do a whole lot more programming that's focused on the community, [and] long overdue updates to the library. We have infrastructure needs that should have been taken care of 10 years ago. But what I really hope I can do is to get a full-time children's or programming librarian," Bonner says.
"No matter how much I work," he says, "it's not anywhere what a dedicated person who thinks about community all the time can do."
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
At today's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, a handful of protesters were arrested.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Justice for Mike Brown. We don't care, shut it down. Justice for Mike Brown...
SHAPIRO: They were angry about Ferguson, and the grand jury's decision there not to indict a white police officer for the killing of a young black man, Michael Brown. Last night, there were protests in other parts of the country. In Los Angeles, dozens of demonstrators were arrested for refusing to disperse. In Ferguson today, things have been relatively calm.
At Wellspring Church, one of our producers found Pastor Willis Johnson. He spoke with us earlier this week on the program. Johnson was hosting a large Thanksgiving meal, and he described the scene.
WILLIS JOHNSON: Eating, fellowship and having great conversation - most of all smiling, loving each other and allowing themselves to be loved and encouraged in a time where a whole lot has been discouraging and unloving.
SHAPIRO: Just down the street from Wellspring is the Ferguson Public Library. NPR's Elise Hu visited the library. In these difficult recent days, it has become one of the few places of refuge for adults and children alike.
SCOTT BONNER: Hello, this is Scott. Can I help you?
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Scott Bonner is the Ferguson Library's director, and its only full-time librarian. He started this job in July, just weeks before the town became an internationally known name. This week, when Monday mayhem led to the burning of more than a dozen businesses and the uncertainty caused schools to close, the library stayed open. For community leaders and business owners, it's become a place to convene.
BONNER: Whenever businesses have been hit, you know, Small Business Administration came in and did emergency loans staging out of the library. If there's a need, we find a way to meet it.
HU: For children, the library provided an education program since students suddenly didn't have classes to attend.
BONNER: Obviously there's a sudden need - a lot of parents didn't know what to do with their kids.
HU: And since unrest can be upsetting, Bonner has just ordered healing kits which children will be able to check out.
BONNER: What these are is a kit that has a couple of books on dealing with emotions and trauma, a stuffed animal, a list of resources.
HU: Just being open has made the library an important resource for many in Ferguson. At the entrance, one sign reads, The Ferguson Library is for everyone. At the checkout counter, another sign says, the library is a quiet oasis.
PHILLIP SAMPSON: Oh, it's invaluable. I don't have a computer at home, I don't have Internet. I'm on a fixed income.
HU: Phillip Sampson is a regular. He comes several days a week.
SAMPSON: The community and the people that I reside here and use this library daily want to feel that there's still some continuity in their daily life. They want to feel that they can still come here as they did before the protests and the aggressiveness and the looting and the violence.
HU: Earlier this week, the library put out a tweet saying it's staying open and providing programming for kids. People across the country retweeted, and the message spread fast.
BONNER: And then people started putting a link to our webpage with a note saying you should donate on the end of the tweets they're sending out. And before I knew it, thousands of tweets.
HU: Donations this week have now hit the six figures, 10 times higher than its monthly total in August when unrest first broke out. More than 7,000 individuals have given something. For Bonner and the library, that means he can buy more than just healing kits. The money can buy more programming for people that need it.
BONNER: What I really hope I can do - what I hope that I can leverage is to get a full-time children's or programming librarian. No matter how much I work, it's not anywhere near what a dedicated person who just thinks about programming and thinks about community all the time can do.
HU: A nationwide community has pooled its 5 and 10-dollar donations to make it happen. Elise Hu, NPR News, Ferguson, Missouri. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.