Breakout session: working together for community engagement

Topic: Collaboration around community engagement/how the library can be a catalyst for civic engagement
Conveners: Joy Mayer and Tina Stewart
(Joy and Tina’s topics seemed to have a similar focus so they decided to combine the session.)

Lauren Britten Smedley
Chelsea Gunn
Saul Tannebaum
Andrew Ott
M Thomason
Amy Penwell
Mike Kittross
Sannon Crawford Barniskis
Catherine Odson
Irene Van
Jamie HelgrenTome
Tom Stites
Jeanine Finn
Mary Chute
Susan DiMattia
Celeste Bruno
Nancy Picchi

Shannon Barniskis shared how her library filled a gap in an information need in the community. During road repair work, residents did not know what streets where closed. Shannon created a blog on the library’s web site and kept people informed about any road closures.

Another participant indicated that a high school student was given his own page in a local newspaper in which he could report community news.

Comments like the above led to the question: “How do we identify what information the community needs? The appetite or the need for particular information ebbs and flows depending on the problem.

Joy asked: How do we identify a community problem? One suggestion was to put a survey on line and ask residents what issues were most important to them.

Good quote, in reference to the See Click Fix project: “ Potholes are the gateway to civic engagement.”

Another comment: Both librarians and journalists should need to become more involved in the community.

People want to feel that what they do or say has an impact on their government.

What about the good things happening in a community? Are these underreported? Journalists should not always follow the “if it bleeds, it leads.” Journalists can contribute to residents having a positive feel about their community. One suggestion: Have a “thank you column” in the newspaper.

One participant indicated that he thought that newspapers and libraries are in competition with each other. At his library, people come to read the daily newspaper instead of buying it.

An editor from Patch explained the format of this online community newspaper, Participants who were familiar with Patch noted this online newspaper was making a positive contribution to getting out community news. More and more people were signing on. Was it increasing civic engagement? Too early to tell.

Patch has also reached out to public libraries promoting their programs and services.

How can libraries be a catalyst for community engagement?
Nancy Picchi suggested that libraries can adopt “one book, one course” model similar to the one book, one community model. There are classes available from universities that public libraries can use.

Tina noted that public libraries can also adopt the public forum concept mentioned by Laurie Moffat from the Norman Rockwell Museum. These can be used to address local issues or more national or global issues that are important to all.

Another participant pointed out that the conversations that are begun at the library should be continued in the public space? Is this the collaborative role of journalism?

The need for librarians and journalists getting out in the community seemed to be a common thread in the conversation.

One participant is part of Radical Reference Librarians, a service that began at the 2008 Democratic convention. Could this model work for public librarians?
The following explains statement was taken from their web site:
We designed this site to answer questions from activists and independent journalists on topics related to those activities. This is not a general reference site. For that, we recommend ASK NYPL, your local public library, the Internet Public Library, or Ask MetaFilter.

Although this was not included in the discussion at the confab, I wanted to point out that September is Civic Awareness Month: The following link was emailed to me by Wilmington Memorial Library’s Reference Librarian. It answers ome ways libraries can be a catalyst for civic engagement.