Two Bright Lights in Missouri: The Ferguson Municipal Public Library and Its Director Scott Bonner Who Served the Community Well in a Time of Crisis

Scott Bonner Director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library

Scott Bonner
Director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library

By Elaine Magliaro

Here is some uplifting news out of Ferguson, Missouri: The Ferguson Municipal Public Library (FMPL) has been named Library of the Year by Library Journal magazine and Gale, a part of Cengage Learning. According to Caroline Siede (BoingBoing), the library was one local organization that “emerged as a heroic force” during the unrest in Ferguson last year after the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. Siede said that FMPL Director Scott Bonner kept the library “open even as other businesses around him shut down.” She added, “After schools closed indefinitely, the Ferguson library became a place for teachers and students to continue with educational programs.”

The $10,000 prize, officially titled the 2015 Library Journal/Gale Cengage Learning Library of the Year, was announced on Monday. The award is given to the library that “most profoundly demonstrates service to the community, creativity and innovation in developing specific community programs or a dramatic increase in library usage; and leadership in creating programs that can be emulated by other libraries.”

FergusonPublicLibraryJohn N. Berry III (Library Journal):

The Ferguson Municipal Public Library (FMPL), MO, became a model for all libraries in the way it reacted to the crisis and the aftermath of riots brought on by the shooting of Michael Brown, a young African American man, by local police.

The little FMPL, with its part-time staff, a growing cadre of volunteers and partners, and its director and sole full-time employee, was the one agency in town that stayed open to serve and support all the people of Ferguson. The library quickly became a safe haven and expressed a peaceful resolve, becoming a critical community anchor. Proud of FMPL, librarians nationwide reacted, as did media large and small, and all who heard of the library’s calm leadership.

Steven V. Potter, director and CEO of the Mid-Continent Library System in nearby Independence, wrote: “The Ferguson Library provided the example for all of us to live up to. It behaved as all of us hope that we would behave if confronted by a similar situation.”

According to Berry, Bonner was in his fifth week on the job when “the first outbreak of civil unrest occurred in August 2014.” He wrote, “It would have been easier to close the library as many expected. Instead, Bonner had the courage and commitment to the community to keep FMPL open and to partner with teachers and community agencies to provide education, information, and emotional sustenance to the citizenry, including its children.” Berry added, “As the story unfolded and the library stayed open, FMPL became an icon of constructive engagement and Bonner an unofficial ambassador of this important aspect of the library’s mission in a community in turmoil.”

Berry said, “All too soon, that example was called into play, as Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library looked to FMPL for a model in April 2015, when the city was racked by sometimes-violent protest following the funeral of Freddie Gray, an African American man who died in police custody.”

According to Berry, Bonner himself said what “FMPL did is what libraries do after tornadoes in Joplin, during hurricanes in New England, and at many other times.” Bonner added, “I think libraries step up all the time. There is always tension between do you open to serve your public or do you play it safe.”


Inspired by the ongoing creative response in Ferguson and the way that work has elevated the public perception of all libraries, Potter initiated a nomination for FMPL for the Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, and Library Journal 2015 Library of the Year, which was submitted by the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and signed by more than 100 directors of the most prestigious U.S. libraries. From a competitive field, the judges selected Ferguson.

Click on the link to read more about what the FMPL did during that period of unrest in Ferguson in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death at Library Journal: 2015 Gale/LJ Library of the Year: Ferguson Municipal Public Library, MO, Courage in Crisis.


Ferguson Public Library named “Library of the Year” (BoingBoing)

2015 Gale/LJ Library of the Year: Ferguson Municipal Public Library, MO, Courage in Crisis (Library Journal)

Ferguson Municipal Public Library Is 2015 “Library of the Year” (Riverfront Times)

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8 Responses to Two Bright Lights in Missouri: The Ferguson Municipal Public Library and Its Director Scott Bonner Who Served the Community Well in a Time of Crisis

  1. For those who think that the Internet killed the library, I say “Libraries have always been about more than just the books.”

    Good on you, Mr. Bonner.

  2. Anonymously Yours says:

    Bravo…. Courage not cowardly as many reactionaries would have not….

  3. bettykath says:

    Well deserved. So glad this library and librarian are being honored. Only 5 weeks on the job and he stepped up.

  4. blouise17 says:

    Librarians are a courageous lot.

  5. pete says:

    Alright ten thousand dollars. Now the Ferguson city counsel won’t feel so bad about the pay cut the librarians will be getting this year.

  6. bettykath says:

    blouise, Librarians stepped up when the PATRIOT Act was passed and they would be required to provide reading lists of their patrons and they couldn’t tell anyone. I believe that provision was removed due to pressure from the librarians. In any case, the local library no longer keeps that information. All the FBI can get is the list of books that are currently out. That’s the default. You can opt-in if you want. I found out because I wondered if I had checked out a particular book. I did not opt-in.

  7. pete says:


    Around 03 or 04 I asked a librarian if she could look into my checked-out records because I couldn’t remember the name of a book I had checked out but hadn’t finished. She said “nope, we delete them as soon as you return them”. That’s when I found out what the feds were trying to do.

    I thanked her.

  8. Steve Wegert says:

    Pete: the city council has no involvement in our library except for the Mayor’s appointment of Board members. We are an independent taxing entity and operate on funds separate from the City’s budget. In passing our budget this past Monday, funds were included for a modest increase for our staff.

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