How can we build long-term engagement from crisis engagement?

Session Host/Reporter: Liza Barry-Kessler

Participants: Jack Harris, Anna Raya-Rivera, Caroline Nappo, Lacey Mamak, Anne Raci, Catherine Odson, Gina Perille, Nancy Kranich, David Gordon, Charles Benton, Dana Walker

Discussion: The discussion began with dialog about how different kinds of crises engage people, particularly in the context of libraries. For example, after natural disasters, libraries can step up to help facilitate communication and provide information. Similarly, when library closure is threatened, libraries and communities may organize to prevent it. The social action (as distinct from reaction to natural disaster) looks to some of us more like a social movement than “institutional” engagement.

We face similar challenges (and opportunities) to how the Obama administration is positioned in 2012. In 2008, he galvanized people around hope and possibility. Now, many of those people are disillusioned and disengaged.

It may be helpful to distinguish between community engagement and civic engagement. Community engagement is much more broad than voting or attending a legislative event. It includes children’s programming, artistic activity, meetings, using mobile libraries, bringing books and resources to other community institutions like farmer’s markets. It is also important to build relationships.

What is the role of journalism? What are the benefits of the 2 professions collaborating?

Are current struggles an example of our “ediface complex?” What do we need to do to demonstrate being part of the community?

There is research suggesting that community engagement changes and evolves with social institutions, social networks, and loose relationships. See the book Engaging Emergence. In this context, “libraries” can be whatever they are needed to be, although there are funding issues.

One way to get people to care about these issues is for journalism to communicate outwardly, reaching people at home. Libraries can also serve as “The Information Place” (TIP). Both professions can improve the public’s skill set in information literacy — finding, evaluating, and using information. We need to use simple language, think outside of the box, and remember that purely rational arguments do not work.

When people value something, they vote for it. This means we need local information, articulating the value of libraries, and to help make sure that people appreciate what libraries have to offer.

We often have ideas about what people should do, but those are OUR ideas. What we really need to do is be ready, be in the information and communications flow, but not necessarily be doing anything in particular. This allows us to meet people where they are.

Example: Journalism: The interest can build in a community, starting from the micro. High school sports coverage builds interest in the high school, builds relationships, builds a sense of the community. From one online citizen journalist covering, big things can happen.

Transparency: Both libraries and journalists need to be upfront about what they do and why, and what they do not do and why not.

Is activism the only measure of success? No. We should try to measure civic health. Minnesota example — civic culture of being news consumers, history of engagement with civic and public life, even immigrant communities are highly engaged. Common basis of trust. Iowa example — grow up engaged, take civic responsibility/Presidential caucus system very seriously.

Now, more sense that “my daily life does not change depending on who wins.” This began to change with the Obama campaign, privileged people are feeling directly affected, but still no instant gratification.

Most people who are at all civically engaged, do so where they are, reporting on what they care about. Hyperlocal news/web = good example. How do people get information/community knowledge? Is it possible that the homogeneity of communities is what used to work? What can we learn from institutions like African American community newspapers? Are libraries looking at census data for their communities, to inform them of coming demographic shifts?

Who are the intersectors? We need people to span boundaries, to serve people in healthy communities. This is about serving people, connecting people, and about reading.

Although we adhere to the idea, attributed to Rahm Emmanuel, “Never let a crisis go to waste,” we want to use that energy to help a community emerge organically. People need to view the pubic sphere as a place for both aspirations and inspiration.

In a nutshell, “We have a lot of questions.”