actorartathleteauthorbizcrimecrosspostcustomerservicedirectoredufoodgaminghealthjournalistmedicalmilmodpostmunimusicnewsworthynonprofitotherphilpolretailscispecialisedspecializedtechtourismtravelunique

I am Ferguson Public Library Director in Ferguson, MO. AMA!

Nov 29th 2014 by scottybonner • 43 Questions • 2884 Points

The Ferguson Municipal Public Library has been doing a lot of programming for the people of Ferguson, and hosting other orgs that needed space to do thier work. I've been director since July 1. We do everything we can for the people of Ferguson.

I'm married with 4 kids, ranging in ages from 11 to 8 months. I'm pretty geeky, and into TTRPGs.

Ask me anything!

Will start answering around 2pm, central time, presuming any questions are here.

Proof pic is in this tweet: https://twitter.com/fergusonlibrary/status/538776683021492224

For cross-verification, here are two pics of me from media sources: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/27/366811650/a-nationwide-outpouring-of-support-for-tiny-ferguson-library

http://www.stltoday.com/news/multimedia/scott-bonner/image_053855dc-ecae-5e7b-8d2e-08a2530d7481.html

Libraries are chronically underfunded, so we learn to make the absolute most of every dollar we get. I urge you to go to your local public library and give them a donation or volunteer some time.

If you want to help Ferguson Library: 1) Donate via paypal at our ("delightfully retro") website, www.ferguson.lib.mo.us using the gold button on the upper right. 2) Donate via bitcoin at https://bitpay.com/867847/donate 3) Volunteer or donate by snailmail at 35 N. Florissant Rd, Ferguson, MO 63135

CODA: Thank you everyone! It has been really great. But, after 3.5 hours, my brain is mush and my hand hurts. I might come back later and look at some more, read some responses, but I'm done for now. Thank you again!

Support your local library!

CODA CODA: Did a couple more rounds of answers, but now I think I really am done for the day. It's 12:15am, and I need to get on with other things. Support your local library! (yawn)

Q:

Have you had trouble keeping up with all your regular programming in light of the increased demand? And on a related note, have you had to come up with any new programming on the fly?

Also — and I realize this is way too early to be thinking about this — I would love to see you and/or your staff bring some of your experience to MLA next year. I have no doubt you could fill plenty of seats.

A:

When I started in July, programming was almost non-existent. We were finishing up summer reading club, and that's it. A shrinking budget (due to the recession) had led to the previous director being the only full-time staff and very little for programs. So, I was starting from zero, and only a month in when Mike Brown was killed, so I can't say I have a baseline to compare. We've been doing everything we possibly can. I decided back in August that I wanted to regret saying "yes" too much instead of saying "no" too much. So, all our programming is new, and most of it on the fly.

I'd love to. I was hoping to go to MPLD next week, but that's not going to happen. I've done a couple panel discussions for library orgs and Teach for America, and have been invited to go New England for a state conference. I'm happy to talk as long as the library or I can afford the expenses.


Q:

One full time staff member? What are circulation rates, membership and population numbers?

A:

I will try to remember to get circ rates for you on Monday. Membership is hard to pin down since we share automation with 8 other libraries within our consortium (Municipal Library Consortium of St. Louis), making a simple search not so simple. Population is around 21,000. Yearly budget is 400,000.


Q:

Could you post the 'civil unrest' policy on the Ferguson PL website, so the library I work in can develop a similar one? We love to borrow!

A:

As far as I can tell, we don't have one. I can look again Monday and see what I can find. I know I've had to thread some needles in trying to determine things like how to pay staff when library is closed, how to handle it when staff call in to say they won't come to work because they are scared, that sort of thing. By the way, we have only had to close one day, August 11th, and I paid the staff. When staff call in, we treat it like sick day. We did a half day last Tuesday, closing at 4pm, and I offered staff the chance to work earlier hours as well as paying per our "library suddenly closed" policy.


Q:

What are the currently popular YA books at your library?

Can you recommend a YA sci-fi?

A:

Fault in Our Stars. City of Bones series. Books that were in our gay pride display. Books that were in our grahic novel display. Scifi/romance crossover stuff.

Dinocalypse trilogy is fun. Some of the classics of sci-fi or fantasy could be considered YA, like LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy. One of my staff recommended Alienated.


Q:

Hi hi! John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars here. Signed copies of all my books headed your way!

EDIT: Jeez, thanks for all the replies, but if I were really a good guy, I would've sent the books quietly instead of posting for all that sweet, sweet karma.

A:

Let me just say, on behalf of the library and Ferguson, THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!


Q:

Does borrowing DVDs from the library cost money? Does it depend on the location? I see racks of DVDs at my local one and I want to grab one to check out, but I don't know if I should have some money on hand if it does. I probably sound like a cheapskate.

Anyway, thanks for doing this AMA!

A:

No. Nothing costs money to borrow. Printing and faxing cost a nominal amount just to keep them from being a huge drain on our budget.


Q:

Am not OP but I totally borrow DVDs (or did, pre-Netflix). It's free to borrow, the borrow time is shorter (I want to say 5 days instead of 2 weeks like for books), and the late fees are bigger. YMMV though so I'd check your library for their DVD borrowing policy, or just ask one of the library staff.

A:

Our DVDs check out for the same length of time as our books (2 weeks), but one is limited to 6 DVDs at a time.


Q:

Do you have any examples of things (negative or positive) that you've seen first hand that the media hasn't/wouldn't cover? Does the media coverage seem to blow the situation out of proportion, or does it seem about right to you?

A:

When protests and police response are happening in the middle of the night along one half-mile stretch of West Florissant, or by the police station, the media makes it sound like all of Ferguson is a war zone, all the time. It's not. It's safe during the day. Businesses are open. People walking around, chatting with each other, just normal town stuff.

It's so much more complicated than the media shows us. Sometimes I think it is infinitely complicated, and no one could every explain what it is really like.

Also, people come together when they have a common cause. At the library, when the kids needed us, people came from all over, from all sides of the situation, from all raced and economic strata, to help.

Because the people of Ferguson are willing to wrestle with their problems seriously, I believe we can, and WILL, come together in the end. We have to.


Q:

Are there any types of books in particular you guys are in need of?

A:

Angie Manfredi, @misskubelik on twitter, has been putting together purchase lists via Powell books for the library. They are phenomenal, and exactly what we need. They are books on civil rights history, civic engagement, and recovering from trauma/dealing with emotions. She covered kids' books and YA back when we did the week-long ad-hoc school in August, and she's covering adult books now, in the same areas. If you are looking for what to donate, check out her list at http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/[email protected]&list=Books%20for%20Ferguson%20IV


Q:

Does the bathtub still exist in the children's section? I grew up in ferguson and the library was a life saver for a poor kid who loved to read. I hope everything works out!

A:

Yup, it is, and gets used all the time.


Q:

What's the over all environment in ferguson right now? Are people still going in an checking out books?

A:

Yes. The library is busier than ever. Overall, the situation in Ferguson is immensely complicated, too complicated to encompass in a dozen paragraphs. I will say that it is quiet and safe during the daytime, and most of the town is quiet at night, too. Where the protests are happening is NO JOKE, but that is localized in time and place. Things are pretty political -- it seems that no one can say anything without someone else reading their mind and making a bunch of false assumptions based on it. But people also come together when they have a common cause. It's complicated.


Q:

I love your site! Enthusiasm for the library gives me hope. Besides donating to Ferguson Library and EarthDance Farms, what are some other constructive ways to help the community?

A:

Help Operation Food Search and St. Louis Food Pantry. Support the local schools and school teachers. Call the handful of churches that have made themselves open to the public and ask what they want. Get a broom and clean up a street. There are infinite ways to help. Check the library's recent twitter and facebook posts for examples and links.


Q:

Did kids in middle school ever give you grief for your last name?

A:

Since middle school. Actually, starting in 3rd grade. Never helps when a teacher mispronounces it with the long o on the first day. Should be Baah-ner.


Q:

Simple question. What kinds of programs do you do for the citizens? Anything unique or standard library stuff?

A:

I have arranged a plan with a core group of teachers and volunteers and Operation Food Search so that whenever the Ferguson-Florissant School District closes due to security issues, but the Library is open, we will have school at the library, for as many kids as we can fit in (and more -- when we did it for a week straight in August, we overflowed into the nearby Ferguson First Baptist church).

We have supported affected businesses by hosting listening sessions by North County Inc, hosting the US Small Business Administration providing emergency loans, Secretary of State's office providing document recovery and preservation for vital docs that got destroyed, Mo Dept of Insurance helping businesses file for insurance.

We have hosted meetings by a number of groups that are working on the big issues, like ONUS and NAACP and Teach for America.

We have an art display of art in response to the situation, one of 14 venues chosen by the Alliance of Black Art Galleries.

And so forth. Lots of little things. I make a list of recent and upcoming programs as part of my monthly report to my Board. There's so much on there that, at one line per program, it fills a page.


Q:

Hey! Whats up, nice to see a fellow St. Louis County resident (Hazelwood born and raised, myself).

Here are my two questions; after the recent rioting and protesting what effect has there really been on the library? Have people started coming in more/less? Are there a lot of people trying to get their hands on books about social justice/civil rights or maybe figures like MLK or Malcom X?

Also, what are you thoughts on the Ender books? I've read Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead and just recently Ender's Shadow and I'm a pretty big fan. Just wondering if you had any thoughts on them!

A:

The hard part about being a director is determining what the community needs. Since August, I have been inundated with needs, so that part of my job got easier. The second part is to find a way to fill those needs, and that part has gotten harder, because the programs need to be bigger, more targeted, and thought out so they don't cause problems in the current local-political climate.

I don't have hard numbers, but staff all tell me that the library is more busy than they've ever seen it before. People also seem relatively relaxed and friendly, so I think we are doing okay with the "quiet oasis" part of the job. I have not been tracking whether we've increased circ in the 300s and bios, where those books would likely be, but I would not be surprised if checkouts have spiked.

Believe it or not, I have not read the Ender books.


Q:

What's next for the Ferguson Library after media attention and donations settle back down to a normal level?

A:

Hopefully, we settle as well, but in a much more community-focused mode. I want the library to be at the center of good things in Ferguson, and to be something everyone wants to be part of.

Maybe I will find out what it is like to be a library director in normal times.


Q:

Hey Scott—big fan of what you and your volunteer team have been doing. Question: Along with the public (and much-publicized) outpouring of support for Ferguson Library, have other public libraries assisted your team? Or simply reached out to form connections with you that didn't exist before?

A:

Yes. We've gotten boxes of supplies, program ideas, and general kudos from other libraries and librarians. Many, many librarians have donated money. A librarian at Kirkwood gave us the most awesome box of snacks. That sort of thing.


Q:

Do you have any copies of MLK's letter from Birmingham prison jail on hand?

A:

Yes, of course. Also got it recently in donation, so we'll have two (or more) soon.


Q:

Hi! Thanks for doing this ama. I'm a fellow director and absolutely love the work that you are doing for your community. How had the current situation (including the events leading up to the present riots) changed your library planning? I am asking in terms of immediate planning (such as the 2015 srp) and long term planning. I understand that you have likely not had the opportunity to consider such topics but as the community has undergone a major change and the library has moved into a more noticeable position, I assume that your plans for the library are also changing.

A:

We are just now getting into library planning discussions. Just been too busy going day to day before this. I gave the board a tiered, prioritized list of potential big ticket items to consider, before we got the recent donations. I have no idea how the donations will affect that, other than making some of that more possible. And, maybe my heart's desire of hiring a second librarian, a children's/programming librarian, to up our ability to help the community.


Q:

What can we do about the worrisome trend towards overmilitarized, under-accountable librarians in the US?

A:

Fund them so damn wall that they get to act out of hope instead of fear. ;)


Q:

I heard your interview on NPR and you reminded me of the following quote. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

You spoke that you were able to hire a children's programmer. Were the funds donated enough for a long-term hire or short-term?

A:

I am hoping to hire a children's/programming librarian. Haven't yet. I'm going to pitch spreading a chunk of this across a few years to afford one, and then hoping we can figure out a long-term solution by the time that is done. I'm confident we can wiggle the budget around with a couple years lead time to do it.


Q:

What is the biggest challenge you face as a library director?

Is the city government still able to keep you guys in the green with everything that is going on?

A:

We are not part of the city. Separate taxing district, separate governance. We have a positive relationship, and help each other out when we can, but no one in the city answers to anyone at the library or vice-versa. The only official connection is that the mayor appoints our 9-member, volunteer Board. So, they do not keep us in the green. The citizens of Ferguson keep us in the green (we have a very small budget for a town this size, so I hesitate to say we are "in the green"), and donations.

I met the mayor once, briefly, when we were in the same line at a taco truck.

Biggest challenge is finding time and energy to do all the things we want to do. That and keeping track of all the threads of potential programs that people are suggesting to me. Both of these are the result of the current situation, and likely to improve over time.


Q:

Are you excited for Star Wars 7, sir?

A:

Yes, with trepidation. If they can do as well as the recent couple cartoon series, we're in for a treat. Abrams is better suited to Star Wars than Star Trek, which is another point for optimism. But it's Disney, and the prequels were...inconsistent. So we'll see.


Q:

Hi! I wanted first of all to let you know how truly inspirational you and your work in Ferguson has been to me, especially as I'm working on applications to library school.

I know the current librarian job market is difficult and some feel like the MLS costs more than it's worth. What's your best advice for someone like me, someone who's hoping to attend library school and become an awesome librarian like you someday? (Or for those who are currently in library school?) What should we be focusing on during our time in library school?

A:

::blush:: Thanks.

Seek the practical. Ask questions about the details of how decisions should be made, logistics of programming, how to apply ethics in every decision. Library school, for me, was too much abstract and not enough practical. So seek that out. In the end, having read a half dozen texts on library theory won't help you a bit, but having a library director explain the hurdles of hiring and discipline will, or having a programming librarian explain every step of how to put together a program. Bone up on the ethics of the profession, and the philosophy of ethics generally, because you will face those questions daily. As advocate for your community and someone responsible for considering everyone in the community, you have to try to do things the right way, and resist the urge to cut corners for expediency's sake.


Q:

Are you guys accepting book donations? I ask because I live in the region and have some books from my childhood lying around.

A:

Yes, if they are high quality enough to consider putting on the shelves. We will add them to the collection if they are good for it, and sell any that aren't in our big twice-yearly book sale put on by the FLIERS (our Friends of the Library group).

The FLIERS could use new members, any of you from the area.


Q:

My mom is a library director in South East Missouri. What are your top 3 challenges being a new director?

We also heard you managed to stop rioters from destroying the library twice. Did you say anything to them?

A:

"Stop! Hey, stop!" :)

I told that story elsewhere, in the thread about whether protesters read books (tldr: of course they do). If you can't find it, let me know and I'll look for it.

Top 3 challenges? First, exhaustion and limited time to do all the things I want to do to help Ferguson through this. Second, threading conflicts between staff members. Third, anxiety about the budget.


Q:

What TTRPG's are you into? Any pen and paper RPG's?

A:

Pen and paper are what I'm thinking of when I say TTRPGs. Fate stuff. World of Darkness stuff. I want to try 5e D&D. I like to homebrewmodify systems. I've had some great experiences at Fear the Con with unusual game systems -- helps to have great players like FtC has to pull some of those off. And so forth.


Q:

if there was one book that you could have all of Ferguson read (right now), what would it be?

A:

No book should be required reading for everyone. That being said, Cat's Cradle, by Vonnegut. Not because I think it would help, but because it's just such a good book.


Q:

I am so impressed with what you have been doing to help ease the struggles of people in your community. I wonder what comes next for the Ferguson library? Will you host a civil rights series of speakers or something similar? Or maybe create a community garden or community art space at your library? I think that library programming can be powerful for engaging a community in need.

A:

I am so deep in the moment-to-moment that my future plans aren't that detailed. I want to hire a Children's/Programming Librarian so we can greatly expand the programming that we can do. I have an idea for a full-family education event that I've been trying to put together for a while now -- weekly event where the little kids go to story time, the student-age kids get tutoring, and the adults have the option to go to a parenting support group, maybe all with food. I have a dozen other ideas I've been trying to inch along, but none of them far enough along that I can say they are definitely a plan. Hosting civil rights speakers is a very good idea.


Q:

You might be able to team up with other community organizations to make some of that happen. Community college students tutor our school age kids, high schoolers could come in to read for the little kids, and there might be a non-profit or government funded program that could help with the parenting classes.

A:

I have been working 4 different angles with 4 different academic institutions, trying to get regular tutoring set up. None have panned out yet, but I am hopeful.

One of them was with honors students at a high school in West County. It was all set up, ready to go on a Thursday when we announced it on a Monday or Tuesday. A few hours later, we had to cancel it. Reportedly, parents called the faculty adviser, worried that their kids were being sent to "a war zone". I tried to explain that it isn't like that, but to no avail. They are hopeful to start it up in a few weeks, if the situation has calmed enough.


Q:

How's the rivalry with the parks department going?

A:

I did not know there was one. Is this a (TV show) Parks and Rec joke?


Q:

I've been considering offering to volunteer at a local library, and this comes at just the right time - how would I go about applying to volunteer at the Ferguson library?

BTW, my husband is familiar with you through something else you are involved in. You sound like an all around nice guy. So glad you're doing an AMA.

A:

We have a volunteer application. If you are going to work with kids or other sensitive stuff, we also do a background check. Talk to me about what is possible.


Q:

What challenges are the staff facing? Was this ever part of an emergency-preparedness plan? I'm completing my MLIS, and I'm curious about the steps behind making the call to remain open in these times of civil unrest.

A:

Mostly, staff keep doing their jobs per normal, just much busier, especially during special programs. If staff call in because they are scared, we treat it like a sick day. Some staff have been reassigned to different tasks to support programming. Etc.

No, it was not part of the emergency plan.

I make decisions as I go. I ask the Board for advice when I need it, as well as staff, patrons, and others. I explain everything to the board. I am as open as possible to whomever asks regarding my thinking.


Q:

What are the racial demographics of your library staff?

A:

10 are white (or look white, at least), and 4 are either black or some mix of races. I have not yet done any new hiring, having only started in July, so I haven't delved into the details of how to work on that.


Q:

Who is your favorite author and why is it Tom Robbins?

A:

I did love Skinny Legs and All. :)

Vonnegut, probably. Ask me tomorrow and I'll have a different answer.


Q:

Hey, thanks for the AMA.

You're a gamer, a family man and a librarian in the Heartland, (despite current events, naturally). Your older kids probably have friends who think that you're the 'stereotype TV dad.'

What would be the craziest thing you've discovered between the pages of a returned book?

A:

My eldest is 11. Not sure what his kids think.

I am no good at these "funny stories" things. Love letters, unused condoms (thank goodness unused!), used tissues, paychecks, doctor's prescriptions, driver's licenses, smudges and stains and sticky spots of all variety -- if it can fit, it will.


Q:

What is security like at your Library? Also does your library have a homeless outreach or counseling services?

A:

Security is normal for a small, relatively poor library. We have an alarm system and security cameras, but do NOT have security staff.

We do not have a homeless outreach. A handful of homeless folks are in the library throughout the day, but that's not what you want to know. I'm not sure where to start with outreach programming.

A number of non-profit agencies use our library for 1-to-1 and small group counseling. I keep trying to set up some kind of free, regularly scheduled, no-appointment counseling option, but nothing has taken off yet.


Q:

Hello, and thank you for doing this. How has the entirety of the controversy in Ferguson affected the library and the community as a whole? Has anything changed in the day to day operations?

A:

If it's okay, I'll refer you to some questions I've answered previously, because I touched on all this elsewhere. Thanks.


Q:

What's your favorite TTRPG?

A:

Right now, probably Fate Accelerated Edition, though I've hardly gotten to play it. It's just so brilliant to modify odds/rolls via descriptions of the character. If he's a two-fisted gunman, instead of upping the shooting roll, you just get to give a bonus any time his being a two-fisted gunman matters. It's like gaming for writers.

Ask me tomorrow, and you might get a different answer.


Q:

What's the most popular book at your library?

A:

Oh, good lord, who can guess? Almost certainly one of the recent releases of the big thriller/crime writers, like James Patterson.

I think Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a new book out, so maybe that right now.


Q:

How does running a library work? I realize this is super vague, so I'll try to make my question more specific.

So for most people, we go to a library, look for a book, check out the book, and return the book. But how do you guys choose which books to get and which to let go of? And how do you choose how to set up and organize the library, the events to host, and stuff like that. And is there anything that isn't really common knowledge about libraries that would be cool to share?

Thanks!

A:

Most of what libraries do is not common knowledge. :) It's also not necessarily cool, more simple workaday tasks.

First, I have to consider a lot of the same things any business manager has to consider -- hiring and firing, employment laws, safety regs, managing sick and vacation and bereavement leave policies, retirement funds and investing, payroll, making and following a budget (gak, that's a big one), getting things fixed that break, and so forth. Then I think about the library-specific things, like collection management and programming and how to charge for things.

Blah blah, this could go on forever. Let me just pick a couple things.

I select by reading professional reviewing sources, watching checkout trends, patron requests, just checking bestseller lists like New York Times or Amazon, and so forth. And I just slog through long lists of books, using those sources as guides as best I can. It is more art than science, and only for those that are good enough at it to call it art. We make book lists with our vendor, in our case Ingram, and order each week. Those come in later, most in a few days, and they get processed and cataloged (details recorded in our online catalog system) before being put on the shelves. Every noun and verb in this is a system in itself, with staff who have been trained on a specific task. I won't know if I did a good job of ordering until years later, when I am running lists of books that did not circulate well so we can remove them from the collection.

You also asked about programming, and that is a less certain affair. I do the same things an event manager does, with a bit of decorating, a lot of publicity, some people skills, and trying to remind other people that whatever we are agonizing over is really a good thing and will be fun or interesting for the patrons. It's so hard to pin down a number for the programming budget, because those costs can be unpredictable, and you want to leave room for that really great idea that comes up. The process of doing a program if done right, takes something like 8-9 months from conception to completion, to allow for long-range planning, publicity, getting dates pinned down, etc.

A cool service = Interlibrary Loan. It's a byzantine mess to do day-to-day, but from the patron end, we can get you almost any book from almost any library, eventually. It's a complicated (and expensive!) reporting-confirming-shipping-tracking system that means that, if I can't find your book in our system, I can put a shout-out to libraries across the country and the world to see if one of them is willing to send it your way, and then some library in Alaska says yes and here it comes! Great for people doing deep research.

I could go on like this forever. If you pick one system, maybe I can give that one more effort.


Q:

As a fellow table top gamer, which side of the table do you prefer, GM or player? Favorite games?

A:

I've been perma-GM most of my gaming career. That included a loooong lull through the 00's. When I came back from that, I was happy to do either, but kinda preferred player.

I'm currently without group, if any locals need someone. :) I've been making do with online stuff.


Q:

Are "bearded librarians" a rarely talked about minority in this country?

A:

Bearded librarians are a much-talked about minority in this profession.