The decision to open the Ferguson Municipal Public Library the morning after a long night of violent protests in the St. Louis, Missouri, suburb was a tough one for the director — and only full-time employee — Scott Bonner.
"I spent all night agonizing about whether or not to open today," Bonner told NBC News Tuesday. Around 7:45 a.m. local time (8:45 a.m. ET), he said he decided to go ahead and open as usual at 9, but close early in case unrest erupted again as it did Monday following a grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, for killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
"Just to confirm, we are OPEN from 9-4 today," a message on the library's Facebook page read. "It was a rough night in our area last night and so we are closing a little early."
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Many businesses and organizations in the area shuttered Monday in anticipation of the protests. But Bonner, who only assumed the post of director on July 1, said he wanted the library to offer a safe space, especially to children dealing with unexpected school closings.
Any time Ferguson-area schools are compelled to close, the library will host activities and an ad-hoc school for the children, Bonner said.
"I think that when there’s all these negative stories, seeing a story where a community comes together unified behind a common cause ... it makes people remember that, you know, we’re all human beings and we’re in this together," he said.
What he didn't expect, Bonner said, was the response from both the community and people across the country who began sending donations and organizing book drives to support the library's efforts. Bonner monitors the response on social media along with his wife and a team of part-time assistants. He said the online fundraising "couldn't get more grassroots if you wanted to" and has been a reminder that "people are good at heart."
Bonner said recent cuts have knocked down the library's budget by about a third, but he's now confident the record donations that have been pouring in will help fund an even better children's program.