Civic Awareness Month
September is Civic Awareness Month! As the International City/County Management Association notes, the month-long celebration “reminds us of the importance of cultivating an informed, involved citizenry that can work in partnership with its local government.”
Many public libraries have fostering civic engagement and social responsibility in their mission statements, and many offer programs that go beyond offering meeting room space. Here are a few examples:
The Evanston Public Library and branches of the Chicago Public Library hosted “Engage! Picturing America through Civic Engagement,” which asked, “Who are you? What is your role in the community? What can you do to make a difference, and where do you get started?” The five-session series encouraged teens to discuss iconic American art as they discovered their role in modern civic life and was a project of the ALA Public Programs Office with support from The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust and The Terra Foundation for American Art.
California’s statewide initiative “Get Involved: Powered by Your Library” is “designed to expand the visibility and contributions of skilled volunteers through public libraries. … We believe that public libraries, as information centers and community ‘living rooms,’ can serve as hubs for civic engagement. Through partnerships with existing volunteer resources, or by taking the lead where none exist, public libraries can encourage and attract more community members to service in libraries and throughout the community.” The project includes a website that helps connect volunteers with opportunities.
The Nashville (Tenn.) Public Library hosts “Community Cinema,” “a groundbreaking public education and civic engagement initiative featuring free monthly screenings of films from the Emmy Award-winning series Independent Lens.”
For the 2008 elections, Saint Paul (Minn.) Public Library hosted a series of events featuring politically themed movies, nationally known speakers, local groups committed to civic engagement, candidates’ forums, voter registration, and more.
Medford (Mass.) Public Library hosted “Civic Engagement in Medford: How to Make a Difference in Your Community.” Speakers included a city councilor, School Committee members, and the Medford Square Revitalization Committee chair.
Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library hosted a book talk with Bert Berkley, author of Giving Back: Connecting You, Business, and Community, a “how-to guide for individuals and businesses who want to be philanthropic in their respective communities.”
Finally, librarians from Nashua (N.H.) Public Library; Wilkinson Public Library in Telluride, Colorado; and Boulder (Colo.) Public Library shared some of their civic engagement programs in a Programming Librarian blog post.
There are also a number of resources available on civic engagement:
The Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy offers workshops, case studies, and discussion guides to help “promote citizen discourse on tough political and social issues.”
“By the People” is a special project organized by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions designed to “gather diverse groups of citizens who don't usually talk about civic and policy issues.” To do so, the project put together a network of local clubs and organizations, community colleges, and PBS stations to host events ranging from day-long dialogues to evening expert panel presentations at community colleges to film screenings and conversations at local libraries. The site offers a list of resources for organizations interested in hosting a Citizen Deliberation.
The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in England published “Community Engagement in Public Libraries: A Toolkit for Public Library Staff,” which discusses the benefits of community engagement, how your library can get started, and how to form partnerships.
The September Project was covered in a Programming Librarian blog post. The grassroots project encourages organizations to host events about freedom and issues that matter to their communities during the month of September.
Finally, don’t forget Programming Librarian’s civic engagement resources page, which includes professional development opportunities.