For the past 12 years, it has been my honor to serve on the St. Louis County Library District Board of Trustees with pride and diligence. I have witnessed the library grow to become the busiest public library in Missouri and be recognized locally and nationally for its innovative programming and leadership. I have observed record-breaking circulation, impactful programs like summer reading club, author events, Hip Hop Architecture Camp and Career Online High School, as well as vital partnerships with community organizations such as the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank and Operation Food Search.
These resources serve all areas of the county and are a lifeline for those who face structural disenfranchisement. I have applauded library administration for their efforts to meet people where they are – whether it’s through bookmobile service or the Wi-Fi hotspot lending program. I have experienced the excitement of patrons attending events with world-class authors and have cut ribbons for 18 new or renovated state-of-the-art library buildings. I am always amazed at the level of excitement when our patrons return to their branch and their library people.
I serve on many boards, live in a diverse community and interact with people of all cultures throughout this region. I have been an educator in the St. Louis region for my entire adult life. The locations of our 20 library branches are intentional and open to all; these libraries are anchors for the communities they serve. I understand that we are better when we work together to serve the entire community.
I am dismayed at the recent criticism directed toward the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees. We have led during this truly transformational time in St. Louis and have approached our roles with a focus on improving the region and being excellent stewards of tax dollars. This included the decision to purchase land in Frontenac for the world-class History Genealogy Library and Administrative Library Building.
The library will be open to the public and will house a collection of more than 100,000 print and electronic resources, as well as expert library staff ready to assist family historians. Unique collections – including the St. Louis Genealogical Collection, the National Genealogical Society Book Loan Collection, the Julius K. Hunter and Friends African American Research Collection and the Jewish Genealogical Society of St. Louis Collection – will now be easily accessible to the public. The administration wing of the building will serve as the heart and soul of all library functions, including our virtual library telecenter, bookmobiles, youth and adult programming, book selection and information technology.
This building is not a “warehouse” or a “Walmart,” as some in Frontenac have described it. This is a library filled with library employees doing the important work of the library district. They will be conducting the exact same activities that have taken place for over 60 years just three quarters of a mile away, at the current headquarters location in Ladue.
The St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees are invested in safeguarding these assets. Libraries are the fabric of our communities, as are the employees who make our library system great. These thoughtful and dedicated individuals serve the whole region – in all its 485 square miles. All of us treasure the diversity in our region. We are united in making our library system excellent not just today, but for the future, and not just in a few corners of the county. An excellent library system, accessible to all, is simply what St. Louis County expects.
Lynn Beckwith Jr., Ed.D., is president of the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees.