CILIP Conference 2016: Scott Bonner shows us what libraries do best.

I was lucky enough to attend the recent CILIP Conference in Brighton on 12 and 13 July 2016.  Thanks to the CILIP Multimedia and Information Technology (MMIT) group who provided me with a bursary to attend. I am a member of CILIP and the MMIT group is one of my special interest groups (SIG). I have been a member of CILIP for a year now, and this was the first time I made real use of my membership.

Aside from reading the CILIP Bulletin, newsletters and updates, I'm ashamed to admit,  I've not explored in-depth the many things available to me as a member. There are a lot of bursaries available through the SIGs for members to attend conferences, so if you're toying with the idea of joining then this is certainly one advantage to becoming a member and a good way to dip your toe in the water.

One of my main motivations for wanting to go to this conference was to hear keynote speaker Scott Bonner of Ferguson Municipal Library. Ferguson Municipal Library was awarded Library of the Year in 2105. As director of the library, Scott made the decision to keep the library open during the riots and provided a space for people to come when there was nowhere else to go. Teachers used the library to set up a temporary school so that parents had somewhere their children could go. The library became a meeting place, a community hub a place you could go to get help or offer help. - Sound familiar?

When I read about this story, of a small library, open and welcoming to all, in the heart of a community that was being ripped apart by the worst imaginable crisis, it really spoke to me.

A recent tweet from Dallas Public Library
Scott maintains that he did something that many other libraries have already done and continue to do. And it's true that he's not the only library to do this. He just did it at a time when the power social media meant that it quickly became world-wide news.

This media attention brought a new dimension however. While keep the library open and safe for all,  Bonner was faced with the added responsibility of keeping the media out of the library, to protect the safety and privacy of the patrons within.

Scott learned a lot from his experiences and it changed his approach to librarianship. He learned that when a community is in crisis people need to feel useful, they want to help. It's important for a library to provide a space not only to benefit those in need of help, but also to facilitate those who need to help. He learned that a shirt and tie can be a barrier to communicating. And he learned that sometimes, for your own safety,  you have to walk away and hope that the library will still be there in the morning (it was).

Bonner's keynote was honest and delivered with modesty. His approach was one of  'this is what to do if you have a library in a community that's in turmoil', but drove home the point that what he did is what we all do every day. We say yes as much as possible, we get to know our organisations and community partners, we make mistakes and learn from them and we keep our doors open.

The difference was that during the initial riots after the shooting and again in November after the Grand Jury decision not to prosecute, the community's needs changed and the library changed with them. The library went from being a passive service provider to an assertive one.

They not only opened their doors but they reached out. They showed that there was a way out of the turmoil and there had to be other ways to come together and enact change in a positive way.

Here's a storify of the tweets during Scott's keynote which apart from anything else, demonstrates the humility with which it was delivered. Thanks to @wigglesweets for putting it together.


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