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When Carla met Scott and how they talked leadership with our library school students


This past week I was honored to host a very special Colloquium at Rutgers School of Information and Communication.

Tough Times–Troubled Choices gathered together: Scott Bonner, Library Director of the Ferguson, Missouri Public Library and Carla Hayden, Chief Executive Officer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as Rutgers’ own Nancy Kranich.

panelsmallScott and Carla had chatted on the phone about their shared experiences, but had never before met in person. Each called the other their hero.

Stuff happens in our communities, our public and school and academic libraries every single day.
On Wednesday, we addressed inevitable dilemmas, unanticipated crises, and the choices we are often unexpectedly called to make in our everyday practice.  How does a librarian balance values, safety and community needs? And what is the role of the library (school and public) in the realm of social justice?
Every time I faced a crisis, I wish I were more prepared.  I want our library school students in every library school to be prepared to step up and lead.
I opened by sharing some context with our students in the form of the real-life demands I personally had to grow with over my career:

We try to balance theory and practice in your classes. Some courses sway more one way than the other. Tonight we’re going to be talking about when practice and values meet crisis, when what you stand for as a librarian meets the everyday life of your library community. 

How will you weigh frictions, make decisions, take a stand?  How will you plan?

I was not faced with nationally covered decisions.  But I was 25 when I was promoted to Branch Manager at a busy branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 

I walked into a changing neighborhood with growing racial issues and a building project with a GM and an architect. I didn’t know what a soffit was. There were more challenging tests to come.

A neo-nazi group politely handed me a form requesting meeting room space.  A small group of patrons demanded we withdraw James Baldwin’s books because they were not relevant to our community.  A serial arsonist wandered the avenue randomly setting fire to buildings, including the firehouse.  More recently, as a school librarian, a student brought his suicide to school with a semi-automatic weapon. As we huddled under tables in the computer lab, he took his life in front of our glass library doors.

I replay scenes like these in my head all the time. I continue to second guess my decisions and my actions. In some cases I wish I had made stronger and better and smarter ones. 

I hope that you might be able to use the resources we gathered in your own professional development or with library school classes.  They share how our panelists balanced their frictions and led their communities, considering: the safety of their staffs, the needs of their communities, and their professional principles and values–while the country, and perhaps, the whole world watched.

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This LibGuide contains video of the archived panel, photos of the event, articles about the leadership we witnessed from what Scott calls, normal librarians, and our Knowledge Café activity posing Scott’s important questions:

      • What is the library’s mission?
      • Who am I serving?
      • What are the competing ethical concerns involved?
      • What core principles of librarianship are involved?


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. […] of citywide protests after Freddie Gray, an African American man, died in police custody. Hayden, along with Ferguson Municipal Public Library, MO, director Scott Bonner, became a spokesperson for libraries stepping up to serve their communities in troubled times. […]

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