August 17, 2017

Scott Bonner | Movers & Shakers 2015 — Community Builders

Scott Bonner


Director, Ferguson Municipal Library, MO

MLS, University of Missouri, Columbia, 2006

Bonner says tabletop role-play gaming makes him better at his job—“the whole game is practicing empathy for fun”—and is teaching his two oldest children to play

@scottybonner; @fergusonlibrary;

Photo by Bob Stefko

What Libraries Do

Scott Bonner had been serving as director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library District, MO, for just over a month when the turmoil in Ferguson put his small library on the map. When fears of violence caused many businesses to close, Bonner kept the library open and conveyed the importance of it as an oasis for all the people of the town. Over months of unrest, the message remained intact: the library is a safe space and resource for all the members of a community.

Bonner also extended the library’s capacity when kids were left without school. Twice, when the city delayed the Ferguson-Florissant School District’s opening in August and closed schools again in November, Bonner put out a call for teachers and volunteers. Together they spread the word—by email, Facebook, Twitter, and handmade signs—that students could come to the library to take classes and make crafts. A local food bank delivered lunches. The result, he says, was “lots of kids, lots of people who’ve never been to the library before, lots of noise…. It was not anything like a normal day. It was a good deal better than a normal day.” And those visitors have returned to the library, over and over—children, adults, and a sudden influx of teenagers.

Carrie Pace, an art teacher at Walnut Grove Elementary who first proposed holding classes in the library when school was canceled, says, “In times of need and crises, there are always those who step up to support their neighbors and community. Scott Bonner is one of those people.”

Bonner started out working in the mental health industry but eventually gravitated to libraries—first as a map curator at Purdue University and, after earning his MLS, in the 22-branch St. Louis system. Eventually he found his dream job: “to be the director of a small independent library that serves a specific community—in this case, Ferguson.”

As Ferguson’s only full-time librarian, Bonner oversees all the usual day-to-day activities. But his commitment to serving the community doesn’t end there. The father of four children under 13, he brings compassion to his work as a matter of course. When the community was troubled, Bonner saw the library’s moment to step up and took it—with powerful outreach driven by a genuine desire to help. Through it all, he downplayed his efforts in what would become a rallying cry for righteous modesty: “It’s what libraries do.”

That spirit proved contagious. As word got out and media coverage from large and small outlets piled up, donations poured in from people all over the world who wanted to help out as well. By year’s end they had sent several thousand new books and more than $350,000—a windfall for a library that operates on $400,000 a year. The infusion allowed Bonner to hire a children’s/programming librarian.

What brings out such generosity? “Scott Bonner exemplifies the good in the world,” says Pace. “We are truly lucky to have him.”

UPDATE: Scott Bonner’s quote, ““lots of kids, lots of people who’ve never been to the library before, lots of noise…. It was not anything like a normal day. It was a good deal better than a normal day” was taken from an interview with The Magpie Librarian. LJ regrets the omission.

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. OK, here’s what I’m NOT seeing in this article (in no particular order): change agent, 2.0, paradigm, repurpose, digital, makerspace, and various combinations of transform/ation/ative. “Community” is mostly overused, but not in this situation. Wow.

  2. When you quote Scott as saying, “lots of kids, lots of people who’ve never been to the library before, lots of noise…. It was not anything like a normal day. It was a good deal better than a normal day,” you’re citing a blog post of mine. Word for word.

    • Lisa Peet Lisa Peet says:

      Apologies for the omission, Ingrid. The post has been updated with the correct attribution.