Ferguson Librarian Wins $10,000 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity

Posted on March 30, 2015

Scott Bonner director of Ferguson Public Library

The American Library Association ("ALA") announced that Scott Bonner, the director of the Ferguson Public Library in Missouri, is the winner of the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. This is the second year of the prize which is funded by Daniel Handler, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events which was written using his pseudonym of Lemony Snicket.

Scott Bonner is the only full time librarian at the Ferguson Public Library. When the racial tensions in the city turned into violence last year after the shooting of teenager Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, Bonner took the initiative to let the community know that the library was a safe, no violence zone. He organized local groups to provide educational programming for up to 200 children a day. He, with the help of local volunteers, organized a section of the library devoted to civil rights, trauma recovery and diversity issues.

Bonner made it clear that the library was to be a "no arguments" zone where exhausted citizens could seek refuge. Many small business owners faced major financial challenges when the rioting started. Bonner invited the Small Business Administration to the library and held an event where small business owners could apply for low interest loans under the Governor's economic injury disaster declaration.

The annual prize is administered by the ALA’s Governance Office and the Office for Intellectual Freedom. The ALA gives the award to a librarian "who o has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact." The librarian receives $10,000, a certificate and an "odd symbolic object" from Handler's personal collection. Last year Laurence Copel won the prize for her work at the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library of New Orleans.

In this video, Bonner discusses the challenges he and the library have faced. He says things have been quiet since Christmas, but the city is still tense. He says no one knows if this is the new normal or if violence will return. He says it's not quite relaxed in the community, but it's not like it was. He also says the anniversary is coming up, so they are ready for more disruptions.

He says the city of Ferguson is in great flux. He says the library is small; he is the only full time librarian, although they are going to hire a children's librarian soon. But he says it's an advantage because they are more independent and the library can do what it wants which is to provide a safe, neutral place for people to go and feel safe. Bonner is quite humble about his achievements. He says he only did what every librarian does: serve the community. He says libraries aren't just about books; are also places of learning and refuge for the community.

Take a look:

Photo: ALA