We Need Libraries For All: Demand Black Lives Matter at St Louis County Libraries

Kristen Sorth, Director, St Louis County Library, Board of Trustees, St Louis County Library

On the six-year anniversary of Michael Brown's death, and in this time of global uprisings to end white supremacy, St Louis County Library continues to call upon the police to harass and terrorize patrons--disproportionately Black youth. Meanwhile, COVID19 is spreading even more in our region and at least three employees of St Louis County Library have tested positive. Police and COVID are endangering and killing Black people. We believe neither cops nor COVID belong in our libraries! We call on St Louis County Library to meet our demands to DIVEST from police, INVEST in Black safety, and PROTECT Black workers from COVID!

To: Kristen Sorth, Director, St Louis County Library, Board of Trustees, St Louis County Library
From: [Your Name]

An Open Letter from Libraries for All STL:

We, members of Libraries for All St. Louis, a multiracial coalition of library workers and community members who believe Black Lives Matter in our libraries, issue the following demands to St Louis County Library:

1. Publicly state that Black Lives Matter.

2. Remove all St. Louis County police officers from St. Louis County Libraries and the St. Louis County Library payroll. It is unconscionable to spend over half a million dollars on a security contract, especially after 120 part-time staff were let go from their positions during a pandemic.

3. Reallocate funds to holistic public safety options (1, 2) that affirm Black lives by using a participatory budgeting process, involving Black and youth library users and non-managerial library staff from the six policed branches in the decision making processes.

4. Hire staff that represent the communities they serve, in particular hiring more Black people in all roles, especially at branch, managerial, and administrative levels.

5. End the culture of policing internally by allowing staff to give input in policies (internal and public) and have authentic representation in decisions that impact our lives on the front lines of service.

Because of the dual crises of police brutality and Covid-19 (3) which disproportionately endanger Black people. It is common knowledge that:
-Black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police, and Black people are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed than white people (4)
- Police brutality negatively impacts the mental and physical health of Black people. (5, 6, 7)
-Black children are more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. (8, 9)
- St. Louis County Police officers have publicly demonstrated racist and violent behavior that does not enforce public safety.(10, 11, 12) In particular, the use of tear gas and pepper spray agents during a respiratory global pandemic is unconscionable. (13)
- Due to existing discrimination and wealth disparity, BIPOC communities are at increased risk of exposure and death due to COVID-19. (14)

Because of St. Louis County Library’s public commitment to “Eliminating racial and social equity barriers in library programs, services, policies and practices.” (15)

Because the American Library Association’s “The Universal Right to Free Expression: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” states:
“The American Library Association opposes any use of governmental prerogative that leads to intimidation of individuals that prevents them from exercising their rights to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas. We urge libraries and librarians everywhere to resist such abuse of governmental power, and to support those against whom such governmental power has been employed.” (16)

It is past time to confront the reality that white supremacy makes our libraries unsafe. Library leadership must listen to library staff and community-based, Black-led organizations in St. Louis who demand that our region defund the police. We cannot have libraries for all with police on our payroll.


1. Library Freedom Project, 2020. It’s Not Enough To Say Black Lives Matter — Libraries Must Divest From The Police. Medium. Available at .
2. Zettervall, S., 2020. Whole Person Librarianship. Available at: .
3. Harrod, D., 2020. COVID, Racism Are Dual Crises For Black Americans. WebMD. Available at: .
4. Mapping Police Violence. 2020. Mapping Police Violence. Available at: .
5. Bor, J., Venkataramani, A., Williams, D. and Tsai, A., 2018. Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of black Americans: a population-based, quasi-experimental study. The Lancet, 392(10144), pp.302-310.
6. Downs, K., 2016. When Black Death Goes Viral, It Can Trigger PTSD-Like Trauma. PBS NewsHour. Available at: .
7. Smith, C., 2018. The Fallout Of Police Violence Is Killing Black Women Like Erica Garner. PBS NewsHour. Available at: .
8. Ella Baker Center, Forward Together, Research Action Design, 2015. Who Pays? The True Cost Of Incarceration On Families. [online] Oakland, CA. Available at: .
9. Equal Justice Initiative, 2017. Black Children Five Times More Likely Than White Youth to Be Incarcerated. Available at .
10. Patrick, R., 2019. Undercover St. Louis cop says colleagues beat him 'like Rodney King'; describes attack as 'free for all'. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Available at: .
11. Teague, S., 2020. St. Louis police to launch training in wake of offensive online posts by officers. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Available at .
12. Patrick, R., 2019. Former St. Louis police officer charged with assault for pepper-spraying 3 during protests. St. Louis Post Dispatch, Available at .
13. Judy, S., 2020. Tear Gas And Pepper Spray Can Maim, Kill And Spread Coronavirus. Forbes, Available at: .
14. Center for Disease Control, 2020. Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups. Available at:
15. St. Louis County Library, 2020. Diversity & Inclusion Resources. Available at .
16. American Library Association, 2014. The Universal Right To Free Expression: An Interpretation Of The Library Bill Of Rights. Available at .