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Center for Civic Engagement

Hartford Public Library, CT
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Innovation Summary

In response to an unprecedented need for civic engagement Hartford Public Library (HPL) has created the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE). The CCE will create a community change process, foster development of a community vision, contribute to a stronger, more successful community, and establish a civic engagement model.

Innovation Leader: Richard Frieder, Director, Community Development & Civic Engagement, rfrieder@hplct.org

Problem Statement

The need for civic engagement today is greater than it has been in decades. Our political system is bordering on dysfunctional. Communities and people experiencing real problems are getting caught in the crossfire of politically driven demands on both sides. Distrust of government is at an all time high. Civic engagement is an important part of the solution. Civic engagement involves deliberate, consistent, and purposeful outreach to create an environment in which people from all backgrounds have a voice in decisions and actions that affect their lives. A recent survey of city officials revealed a belief that civic engagement contributes to a stronger sense of community, increased trust between the public and government, and better solutions to local problems. In the report by Knight/Gallup entitled Soul of the Community it was demonstrated that when people feel greater attachment to their communities, the communities are more successful. Civic engagement is key to achieving greater community attachment. Urban public libraries are uniquely positioned to serve as leaders in civic engagement. They are trusted, accessible, stable, apolitical, positive, and are at the heart of the community. The substantial assets that libraries offer – physical space, technology resources, knowledgeable and skilled staff, connections to influential community groups, and a history of successful and valued performance – further contribute to their ability to play a central role in civic engagement.

Innovation

HPL is a civic engagement leader among libraries. Through nationally recognized programs The American Place, the IMLS-funded Immigrant Civic Engagement Project, HartfordInfo.org (winner of the 2010 ULC Innovations award), and others, HPL is making significant contributions to civic engagement. HPL received 3rd place in the 2013 national competition for the LibraryAware Community Award presented by EBSCO/Library Journal, and is a finalist for the 2013 IMLS National Medal for Library Service. Last year HPL created the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), building on existing programs while adding new activities. The CCE includes several interrelated components: HartfordInfo.org is the informational underpinning of the CCE. HartfordInfo.org is a gateway to information on issues important to those who live and work in Hartford. HartfordInfo.org will receive a complete update resulting in improved branding, messaging, functionality and navigability, allowing users to have online discussions and contribute content to the site interactively. Hartford Matters is a series of public programs on community issues such as workforce development, education, and poverty, among others. The programs are developed in collaboration with media partners, thereby reaching new audiences and resulting in multiple formats and outlets including television, radio, print, and social media. The Hartford Votes Coalition includes fourteen organizations dedicated to increasing voter engagement. Coordinated by HPL, the Coalition offers candidate forums and voter education activities. Hartford Listens is a series of structured, facilitated community dialogues designed to engage diverse groups on critical civic issues, resulting in action plans. Hartford Acts includes community compacts to move forward the action agendas developed in Hartford Listens. Hartford Acts will also include a community indicators project to measure progress, plus a volunteer program to support action implementation.

Progress

Progress is being made on each component of the CCE and major funding has been secured. HartfordInfo.org receives over 5,000 visits monthly by a variety of people for many purposes. Hartford Matters programs are being implemented in partnership with local media. Hartford Votes has offered numerous public programs and is implementing a Latino Voter Engagement Initiative for which an LSTA grant was received. Three Hartford Listens community dialogues have been conducted with hundreds of participants. Under Hartford Acts, a family support group as well as a timebank have resulted from community dialogues. HPL received a grant from the Hartford Foundation to support the Library’s collaboration with partners on Hartford Matters, Hartford Listens, and Hartford Acts activities. An indicators project is being planned with local partners. The purpose of linking these five components together as the CCE is to foster and capitalize on the synergistic relationships among them and achieve greater outcomes. As HartfordInfo.org becomes more interactive, community members will participate in developing content and will contribute to public programs that will be developed in Hartford Matters and Hartford Votes. Topics addressed through Hartford Matters and Hartford Votes will become the focus of dialogue in Hartford Listens. Action plans developed in Hartford Listens will be implemented and progress measured through Hartford Acts. The CCE will ultimately create a framework for a community change process, foster the development of a community vision, contribute to creating a stronger and more successful community, and establish a civic engagement model for urban public libraries.