I am not a smart enough person, or eloquent enough, to talk about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. I’m not even going to try. I will say that, as I’ve watched events unfold, I’ve been struck at how the community, and in some ways, the country, has come together to support the citizens of Ferguson. When I saw how the Ferguson Library became not only a safe space, but a source of real positivity and support, it made me want to be a better librarian. Not only did Ferguson library workers step up their game, but so did teachers and volunteers of all sorts. I wanted to know how, despite so much strife and conflict, the library seamlessly became a hub of strength and solace. I contacted Scott Bonner, a librarian at the Ferguson Library. He was nice enough to answer some questions.
(Note, this interview took place over a fairly long stretch of time, because Scott’s obviously very busy. Please excuse any weird time continuity issues).
Ingrid Abrams: On a typical day, what is your library like?
Scott Bonner: We are a small library, in an old suburb of St. Louis. I am the only full time librarian. All other employees are part-time library assistants, with one part-time administrative assistant. As a result of not having reference staff or a Children’s Librarian or a Programming Librarian, we do not get a lot of reference work, and have far less activity involving kids than I would like. I only started July 1st, so I’ve got plans to improve those areas, but I haven’t been able to move on them yet. What we do get is steady traffic from the community. Our public access computers are full pretty much all day. We have good circulation. The atmosphere is quiet and businesslike, with the occasional person talking way too loud on a cellphone. My day is often filled with administrative duties like signing vendor checks, contacting various service providers to get things done, making introductory contacts with community organizations, and troubleshooting technology. I am guessing it’s normal activity for a small library with limited staff and a new director, and a very good thing.
IA: Since the recent turmoil in your community, how has your library changed? Are the expectations of the patrons different? What are you offering that you’ve never offered before?
SB: This last week has been radically different, and just the kind of change that I want to see. Suddenly the library is full and overfull. Everyone knows we’re here. Regular library traffic continued, thanks in part to me trying to contain the big program to areas away from the front desk and computers. But, obviously, we’ve had an explosion of activity everywhere else, and it’s not like we’re big enough to have a sense of “everywhere else”. Everything is in sight of everything, after all. Lots of kids, lots of people who’ve never been to the library before, lots of noise, lots of camera crews blocking doorways and aisles. I think we did the best job we could of partitioning school from library, but it was not anything like a normal day. It was a good deal better than a normal day.
This last week, we made an ad-hoc school! I offered the library’s space, and put out metaphorical fires, and played taskmaster to the press, and the teachers and volunteers made an actual, working school. We spread across two locations, the Ferguson Library and the First Baptist Church up the street. We had 200 students across locations at our peak — before we established the second location, we had 150 at the library alone on Wednesday, and wasn’t that a crazy day! We had educational organizations from across St. Louis clamoring to help, including SpringboardSTL, St. Louis Science Center, MO Dept of Conservation, and many more.
Sad to say I have no credit for this photo. Contact me if it’s yours. I’ll credit you.