An Interview with Scott Bonner, Ferguson Librarian


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.

Sad to say I have no credit for this photo. Contact me if it’s yours. I’ll credit you.

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Little Reminders Everywhere: Beware the Summer Slide!

This is a summer-related post and summer’s almost over (can I get an Amen, public children’s librarians?), so this is being written up very late in the game. I’ve talked about how hard summers are on me, so you’ll forgive me for my tardiness. Usually, I leave an early literacy tip behind the reference desk for about a month or so. However, since we are inundated with school-aged children all day in the summer-time, I decided to aim this literacy tip at an older crowd. It went up in July and won’t come down until school starts.

This literacy tip discusses the Summer Slide, which is what happens to children who don’t read during the summer. Their little child-brains eat up tons of knowledge during the school year, but, if they don’t read during July and August, they can lose vocabulary words and even fall back an entire grade level.

Like the Summer Reading plug I snuck in there?

Here’s a closer look at the illustration, which I stole/borrowed from here:

Stay tuned for next month’s early literacy tip, which I will hopefully post in a timely manner like a grown up.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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“You angry feminist types are always looking for crap to stir”: Code of Conduct Survey Trolls and Others


[The full and required-to-read comic here]

This is the third installment of responses to a survey I created concerning Code of Conduct violations at ALA conferences. The first post consisted of numerical findings, while the second shared the stories of respondents. But even all this is not the full story, as I received a good number of troll comments, many of which were clearly made to get a rise out of me (or anyone who read them). My first instinct was to delete or ignore them (Don’t feed the trolls! Don’t read the comments! Etc.). These, though, weren’t the standard “STFU, go make me a sandwich”-style trolls. This was something else altogether. Sometimes the comments were just plain rude. To be fair, some of the responses weren’t even troll-y, just dismissive or totally clueless. So, I decided to post them. It seemed important to respond and make their comments visible. These are, after all, our colleagues (or they’re pretending to be!). We must attend conferences with them. We must interact with them. It’s good to know what’s out there. Even if some of these comments were meant in jest, we have to think about why our fellow professionals find harassment funny.

In the previous CoC posts, I tried to refrain from adding my personal comments to the mix. Now, you’ll say that I have quite a bit to say.

Comment #1: “I have also acknowledged simple compliments for what they are and do not consider them to be harassment.” I think it’s important to note that sexual harassment (or general harassment) is quite different than a compliment. Note some of these “compliments” respondents talked about in the previous CoC post: “An inappropriate comment from two colleagues about the size of my breasts” and “comment about a male’s sexual organs, veiled as being a joke/compliment” and “he complimented my clothing and body and said it was nice to see a young, attractive woman at the conference.” An example of a compliment appropriate for a work conference would be, “That’s a nice hat” or “I enjoyed your poster session.” Anything that sexualizes the person, mentions intimate anatomy, or that would be inappropriate in your place of work is in bad form and generally unwelcome. I did not receive a single response that included someone complaining about a standard compliment, nor would I start a CoC survey because someone told me I had pretty hair. When you hear about a person’s experience with harassment, try not to go out of your way to insist that it was appropriate. Believe your colleagues.

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Code of Conduct Survey Results: Your Stories

Welcome to my second post regarding the results of my Code of Conduct surveyPreviously, I shared the cold-hard numbers, which are certainly helpful, but do not reflect the entire story of Code of Conduct violations at ALA Conferences. I left ample room for respondents to talk about their experiences. Here, I will share the stories and anecdotes that respondents were kind enough to include.

Before others tell their stories, I believe it would be polite and only right to share two of mine. I have been harassed several times at conferences, but two main stories compelled me to create the Code of Conduct survey. We all respond to different situations in our own ways. Verbal harassment never bothers me for long. It just rolls off my back. I think my tough NY exterior has desensitized me to certain kinds of behavior. However, unwanted touching bothers me beyond all belief. For me, personally, it is something that I just cannot accept from other professionals (or anyone, really). One incident happened at an after-conference party. Yes in a bar. Yes with drinks. A gentleman, who I had never met before that evening, kept trying to hold my hand. Repeatedly. I don’t think hand-holding is harassment at all. However, when someone pulls their hands away from yours, again and again, most people would understand that said person is not asking for physical contact. No matter how often I pulled away, he kept reaching for my hand, often times succeeding in holding it. It was odd, it was unwanted, and I did not like it. Getting away from this librarian was awkward. Did this ruin my conference? Did this make me feel unsafe? No. But I am entitled to my own physical space and the onus is not on me, entirely, to explain to those around me (librarians, no less) that I am not public property just because I’m at a bar.

The other incidence occurred on the conference floor at the Vegas conference, which I like to point out to people who say that harassment at conferences only happens around alcohol (as if a cocktail explains and permits harassment). I was handing out model releases for the Kyle Cassidy portrait project. I was choosing my words very carefully as I approached people as I didn’t want anyone to think that was hitting on them. I approached a male librarian with a model release in hand. After I gave my “do you want your portrait taken”-spiel, he was giving me an odd, confused look, so, I added, “I’m not hitting on you, I just think you’d be good for the project.” He grabbed my hand and said, “Oh, I’m hitting on you. I am hitting back.” He then proceeded to grab my hand and open-mouth kiss it. It was not a standard kiss on the hand. In fact, one of our library teens always kisses our hands and it’s very sweet, actually. This gentleman on the conference floor was not being sweet. It felt lech-y. It felt gross. My hand was covered in spit. I stood there, stunned, as he walked away, occasionally turning around to look back at me and smile. Another librarian had witnessed the scenario and asked if I was alright. She offered me some hand sanitizer. It was a very kind thing for her to do. I felt that she was acknowledging that the situation was inappropriate and I appreciated that she checked up on me.

So, those are my stories. I am consistently shocked at the behavior of some conference-goers. My job pays for my conference days as if they were actual work days. Therefore, conferences are work for many of us. I’d like to think that those who harass conference goers don’t harass their coworkers back home. I could be wrong. I think that certain people think it’s OK to harass at conferences because they won’t be found out or because they think that a conference allows a set of behaviors that are different from those allowed in a more conventional workplace. I can’t be sure of this theory, though.

Moving on, these are some of the stories respondents were kind enough to share with me. I will quote them word for word, only editing them for length.  I tried not to alter people’s grammar, spelling, phrasing, capitalization, etc. In cases where survey-users mentioned specific names or divisions/round tables, I left out that information, though, in some cases, it was quite tempting to let identifying information remain. Some specifics were left in if they did not appear to be too identifying of those involved.

I do not believe I have specifically witnessed any of the following incidences and therefore cannot confirm or deny any story.

Brace yourself. This is a long post.

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Crowded Classes, Busted Voices, Kid-less Adults: Storytime Ninjas explain it all

Hey, look! I was a featured Ninja on Storytime Underground!

Grab button for Storytime Underground

Click through to hear Michelle, Natasha and I talk about crowded storytimes, taking care of your voice, and what to do about child-less adults crashing your kids’ programs.

Thanks to the kind folks at Storytime Underground for letting me act like someone who knows what they’re talking about!

Have a question for a Storytime Ninja? Click here! Are you a super-smart Ninja who has all the answers? Click here to field some submitted questions.

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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In honor of Harry Potter’s impending mid-life crisis and birthday, steal my quiz!

DANG, Harry Potter, you’re getting old as hell (but not as old as me, which is kinda depressing). We have an upcoming Harry Potter party at our library, and I’ve done nothing in preparation other than come up with this quiz. You’re welcome, other librarians I work with. For the party, I’ll be busting out my old fake fortune teller schtick, which I’ve done for a previous HP party (as Professor Trelawney) and a Diviners party (as some weirdo). I’m getting awfully good at making up crap fortunes: “Uh…you’re fighting with your parents a lot….uh….you’re about to lose your favorite pair of socks…uh…that gum you like is going to come back in style…” My skills are super impressive.

Anyway, if you’re looking to use a Harry Potter quiz with your kids/tweens/teens, feel free to steal mine! Answers at the bottom.

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Code of Conduct Survey Results: Just the Numbers

With very little comment, here are  the results of the Code of Conduct survey, which sought responses from ALA Conference attendees. I asked ten questions, referring to experiences with ALA Code of Conduct violations at conferences. The violations could occur before or after the dawn of the CoC. Responses were anonymous. I never saw anyone’s name or place of work or ALA division or any other identifying information (unless the person insisted on including it, which happened in some cases. I will not include these specifics in upcoming posts). According to Survey Monkey, I received 321 responses.

Many of the questions were taken directly from the Code of Conduct itself. Wording and phrases that some respondents described as “vague” were often cut-and-pasted from the CoC. For example, many survey-users asked for me to define “harassment”, but I deliberately used the wording from the actual CoC. I added very little embellishment or clarification. I admittedly botched questions 5+6, regarding the treatment of those who speak at ALA panels and the like. I was trying to cover every term and phrase that the CoC mentioned, but I should have approached the questions in a different manner. Sadly, once the first person answers your survey, Survey Monkey no longer allows you to edit your questions. My apologies. I did glean some good anecdotes from questions 5+6, but I won’t be sharing the statistics from those questions as they’re unhelpful and irrelevant.

For those who hadn’t seen the original survey, I will now post the questions (even my botched 5+6), followed by a series of charts (some by Survey Monkey, one by me as I try to pick out common themes in the user-submitted anecdotes).

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Sure, let’s close the libraries and just get everyone an Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription

I’ve been a librarian for over five years, and have fought like a maniac to keep libraries in NYC open. Money has been scarce in NY for a long time, and library budgets are only just starting to level out. My system had some very un-fun layoff scares (while some systems have had actual layoffs), stunted hours, lack of materials, and massive staff shortages. To combat this, my colleagues and I have stayed up all night reading, dressed up as zombies and lumbered over the Brooklyn Bridge, and took part in a number of other tactics to help keep NYC libraries open and staffed. I really believe in the power of libraries and how they can transform lives and communities, but hey, when someone has a super good idea on how to save us all some money, I’m all ears. The super-good-idea haver is one Tim Worstall and he’s really knocking it out of the park with his idea to just shut down those dusty, ghost-town book depositories we call libraries and replace them with unlimited Kindle subscriptions for everyone!

Tim Worstall, bringing the noise and the funk, concurrently.

Tim Worstall, bringing the noise and the funk, concurrently.

Says Worstall:

More titles, easier access and quite possibly a saving of public funds. Why wouldn’t we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?

I can’t argue with logic, can you? I don’t know about everybody else, but I think it’s time to just start converting these libraries in fro-yo places and just getting on with it already.

Now, maybe I’m kinda a Ludite, so you might have to explain this to me, but Amazon Kindle subscriptions are more than just books, right? I mean, yeah, you can get e-books and audiobooks and stuff, but it does tons more, correct?

Like, for example, the Kindle sits your kids down teaches them how to code, right? In a sort of fun, accessible, hands-on manner? And helps those same kids to learn how to invest their money? And provides activities for kids with a variety of abilities? And makes sure that kids who need free meals have them during the summer?

And Amazon provides a safe place for kids to go after school, no? Just like a safe haven they can go to until their parents pick them up. I might be wrong, but while the kids are somehow safely ensconced inside the Kindle, Amazon employees provide them with a free computer and WiFi use and research/homework assistance. I think.

And it’s not just for adults. Where many organizations and search engines fail, Kindle is there for your specialized research needs.

And in the case of a natural disaster, where you might lose your belongings and your home and have no access to WiFi and other resources, Amazon totally has your back, right?

One of the nicer things that the Kindle subscription does is help you find jobs. Thanks, Amazon!

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but Amazon is extremely supportive of the homeless community.

And if you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon will totally lend you a free Kindle. No problem. Amazon understands that you don’t have money for a Kindle!

I mean, if this unlimited Kindle subscription can not only lend us books, but provide safe places for our kids, educate us, help close the digital divide, provide specialized research assistance, help us in natural disasters, find us jobs, help the homeless population AND lend us free Kindles, then, well damn. I, for one, welcome our Amazon overlords.

Thanks, Tim Worstall! You’re the Best-all.

Oh, and one more thing, just as a little reminder:

I was just joking this whole time. Libraries are so much more than books, while Kindles, which are pretty OK, are *only* books. Thanks for listening.

I was just joking this whole time. Libraries are so much more than books, while Kindles, which are pretty OK, are *only* books. Thanks for listening.

~Love and Kindles…Libraries, Ingrid

P.S. Feel free to add your own reasons why libraries can offer so much more than an e-book subscription ever could.

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Someone #NotAllMen-ed Our Library’s Anti-date Violence Poster

Yup. Someone took our poster about date violence and #NotAllMen-ed the hell out of it.



In light of this, I thought I’d share a helpful resource for anyone working with youth in NYC. It’s called Day One, and it exists to end dating abuse and domestic violence. These kinds of violence are serious issues, not just in NYC, but in the country at large.

Some national statistics:

  • In a study of young women seeking family planning services, 53% of young women reported experiencing physical or sexual partner violence.
  • Women aged 16-24 experience the highest per capita rate of intimate partner violence, triple the national average.
  • A woman is more likely to be injured, raped or killed by a current or former partner than by any other person.
  • Girls reported that their dating partners were the ones who started the abuse 70% of the time; whereas boys reported their dating partners to be initiators of abuse only 27% of the time. The boys were much more likely to state that they initiated incidents. For boys reporting they had been subject to a partner’s use of physical violence, 17% percent reported that the reason for this violence was because they (i.e. the boys) had been making sexual advances toward the dating partner.

Check out some of Day One’s very helpful guides here.

And remember, gentlemen, if your only response to violence against women is “WELL WHAT ABOUT ME!?!?!?”, you need to reevaluate your priorities. You don’t need to be the center of every single discussion.


~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

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Self Care for Teens: If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?

RuPaul's words of wisdom now reside over the YA reference desk.

RuPaul’s words of wisdom now reside over the YA reference desk.

If you are one of the seven people who read this blog, you know that I like to do a “hot topic” display at the YA reference desk. I’ve covered body image, racism, LGBTQ  pride, and other topics. This time around, I decided to talk about the concept of self care. In addition to the display, I finally decided to add a pathfinder and a BiblioCommons list as well. I don’t know why it took me so long to add these other options. They seem like a necessary and logical addition to the display.

Look, everyone! I’m learning how to make stuff better.

I feel like Self Care is a touchy subject in general, not only with teens. There’s a need to never show weakness or ever ask for help when we’re overwhelmed. Yet, the best way we can be good to others is to first take good care of ourselves. I did some research on Self Care and came up with this pathfinder:

Within the pathfinder, I included a definition of Self Care and why it’s important, the 12 Steps for Self Care (I’ve also seen them listed as 10 Steps, but I saw 12 more often), and ideas for how one can take better care of themselves:

If you’d like the actual word document (I know the screencap of it is kinda blurry), just hit me up on my contact page.

The flip-side has a list of relevant library books, which again, can be found in this BiblioCommons list.

For the actual display, I borrowed/stole heavily from Calming Manatee, Emm Roy, and Skeletor is Love. Along with the search term “Self Care” I also used “Positive Affirmations”. I made an extra effort to find images featuring POC. Take a look:

Full Maya Angelou quote here if you are interested.

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