Notes of a Binge Thinker

Thoughts from NTLP's Executive Director

The Library as Civic Partner in the Community

Happy May!   

It is that time again to look at the guidepost for the Library of the Future, ebooks and other news here at North Texas Library Partners.  Let’s start with the guideposts. 

The Library of the Future increases the overall value of its community by:

Guidepost 1: facilitating access to education as a service to the public.

Guidepost 2: staying aware of current interests within the community, finding information relevant to those interests, and making that information publicly available.

Guidepost 3: ensuring easy public access to information in all its forms.

Guidepost 4: encouraging civic participation through public information campaigns that explain matters of public policy, informing public decisions, and maintaining awareness of public services (including its own services).

Guidepost 5: maintaining its standing of public trust by operating as an independent “third voice” in its operations as well as its communications, and meeting on neutral ground.

Each month I will focus on one guidepost.  I will highlight a library (or libraries) that I feel is following that guidepost closely and doing something innovative to make the guidepost a reality.  I will then give some benchmarks (examples of what libraries can do to follow the guidepost) that the NTLP staff has developed.

This month I am focusing on guidepost number four, which focuses on civic participation.  I am going to take a different track this month.  Instead of highlighting one library, I am going to present what I believe a library needs to be doing to make this guidepost a reality and why this guidepost is so important.  As always, I will add at the end of this section some tasks that your library can do to reach this guidepost. 

Here are some questions to ponder.  What is the role of the library when it comes to civic participation of its community?  Does a library take an active role, or a more passive one?  What have libraries done in the past in regards to civic participation? 

For me, a library has to take an active role in civic participation.  I do not think this has always been the case in the past.  One of the reasons I decided not to highlight a library this month is that I could not think of a library that was taking an active role in doing this.  Nothing stands out in my mind.  I am sure there are libraries working on promoting civic engagement, but there is not an aggressive one to my knowledge. 

There are several arguments for and against civic engagement.  One is that this role is not requested of the library.  In this case, we get back to the age-old argument of a library providing services the community wants versus what it needs.  In my opinion, a library has an inherent duty to be involved in its community from a civic standpoint, whether the community requests it or not.  In today’s world, when politicians seem to be even more polarized than in anytime in our history, each community needs an institution within the community to educate residents on the issues of the day through an aggressive public information campaign.  It used to be the local newspaper, but these are dying so many residents are left in a vacuum without any clear guidance on what is happening civically in their communities.  A library could serve this role. 

Would it be difficult?  Are their barriers to its implementation from a pragmatic standpoint?  Yes to both questions.  After all, most public libraries are funded by political bodies.  A library director would be taking a risk in taking on this role, but librarians have been known to stand up for their beliefs, and this inherent role is one I believe we need to embrace.  

The benefits are many.  In the guidepost itself, you see that we have emphasized that a library needs to make its community aware of the services available to the community from the different level of governments.  These services include the library’s own.  By being the herald of all things civic, a library is promoting its own value to the community.  From a long term planning perspective, this is invaluable, because it starts to frame the library as more than the “book place”, but one that a citizen can feel fully engaged in its community.  We begin to build real value in the library offerings. 

Now, here are some ideas my staff has regarding this benchmark.

Read the rest of my column here.

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Written by amwlkaw

May 23, 2011 at 11:09 am

Posted in Misc

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