I’m the librarian at The Christian Science Monitor. Here are my notes from my pre-conference conversation catalyst with my partner, Marla Crockett.

I asked her how she ended up saying Yes to attending Biblionews: Marla, who lives in the Washington, DC area, found out about this conference through a friend, Nancy Kranick, who was a past president of the American Libraries Association. Marla has been an anchor, producer, and news manager in public broadcasting. In 1994, she worked for NPR as part of an election project, to cover issues that citizens would need to know about to make an informed choice, beyond just the political ‘horse race.’

I was delighted to know she is a longtime subscriber to our publication, and even freelanced for it previously.

She wrote to me by e-mail: “I’m interested in seeing how members of each profession view their roles at the moment and the potential for collaboration. I’m pretty involved in the democracy and civic engagement end of things–and that’s where my heart was as a journalist–so I’ll be looking for signs of outreach to the public.”

Marla is very motivated by the principles of civic journalism – we conceded that is important and broad, and should be a topic we’ll cover at the conference.

What I found intensely interesting about Marla is that she is very involved with a movement intended to foster dialogue and deliberation – beginning with bringing people together for conversation, much like we are doing with this conference. She feels strongly that this is so needed, for people to discuss issues, recognize different points of view, and hopefully help people deal with problems.

“People are searching for ways to talk to each other,” she said. I am in agreement – even with the greatest communication tool the world has ever known – the Internet – we’re still falling short of ways to communicate.

Marla enlightened me to the fact there is a whole movement of people with this undercurrent of promoting discourse – called the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. http://www.thataway.org/. It has a listserv – that anyone could join.

I mentioned that this had been a periodic focus at the MONITOR, particularly through a series of articles called ‘Talking with the Enemy’ during presidential campaigns that encouraged people to engage in conversation with people of different points of view, even including articles with instructions on how to do this. http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1015/p10s02-coop.html I said I would definitely be reviewing the discussion on the list.

Last year during the mid-term elections, the MONITOR hosted a series of ‘meetups,’ casual events where people were encouraged to come, ‘check your party at the door,’ and have a conversation. I was involved in trying to find locations for this – we tried to have it at a library but was told that they weren’t allowing outside groups to reserve a meeting room at that time. Events were held at a Starbucks and other small businesses in Boston and Washington. Marla mentioned that she was interested in these and had hoped to get more involved.

We talked about several institutes and individuals that are involved in this ‘under the radar’ movement, and it was encouraging to know. I thought it would be ideal for a library setting.

Eventually we reached the point where Marla expressed her ‘heartfelt goal’ for all of this work: that civic discourse – or just intelligent, balanced or wide-ranging points of view expressed – becomes mainstream.

This was a most enlightening and surprising conversation, and I look forward to what comes out of our discussions at Biblionews and in the future.