Scott Bonner, director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library in Ferguson, Mo., didn't expect to find his library in a crisis situation. And he certainly didn't have time to prepare.
On Sunday, Feb. 2, at ALA's 2015 Midwinter Meeting, Bonner shared his experiences leading his library through the chaos that followed the August 9 police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. (Listen to the audio of Bonner's presentation.)
Bonner took the audience through the events, decision points and often-difficult judgment calls in the months that followed. His talk focused on four decisions: whether to stay open after the shooting; whether to allow local teachers to use the library as a makeshift school during the 1-1/2-week school closure; whether to offer space for an art exhibit by local artists; and how to prepare for the November 24 grand jury announcement.
For each decision, he polled the audience on how they would respond before sharing his own decision. Sometimes, he said, his answers were wrong.
"Welcome to the land of missed opportunities," Bonner said.
But by staying true to his library's mission, the values of librarianship, and by trying to serve his entire community -- not one faction of it -- the library not only continued serving, but has been held up as an example of librarianship at its finest. Among the results: $400,000 in donations, equivalent to a full year's budget for the library.
Bonner's parting words: “Be true to yourself and to your profession. In other words, just be a normal librarian.”
He received a standing ovation.
Bonner’s talk was sponsored by Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC), an ALA initiative that seeks to strengthen libraries’ roles as community leaders and change-agents by developing and distributing tools to help library professionals connect with their communities. The initiative is made possible through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Download a free "Step-By-Step Guide to 'Turning Outward' to Lead Change in Your Community."