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Democracy in Action

Hartford Public Library

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

Problem Statement

Hartford needed a center for civic engagement and public discourse that would foster dialogue on important issues, help the community move toward solutions, and support participation in the democratic process. HPL was the perfect organization to do this because it is well regarded throughout the community as a welcoming place that encourages inclusivity and builds trust.

Innovation

HPL created Democracy in Action (DIA). DIA includes candidate forums, voter registration events, voter education programs, and youth programs, plus community dialogues, issues forums, and the new Hartford Matters series. A number of candidate forums and town hall meetings have been held, as well as programs on immigrants and voting, the role of town committees and political parties, campaign finance reform, and City of Hartford boards and commissions. In addition, four Youth Making an Impact programs have been held, highlighting youth civic engagement in Hartford. Many of these activities are co-sponsored by the Hartford Votes~Hartford Vota Coalition, which is coordinated by HPL. DIA also includes a series of community dialogues and issues forums (new in 2011) presented in collaboration with Everyday Democracy and the National Issues Forums respectively. A community dialogue (a several months long process) on Youth of Incarcerated Parents is nearly complete. Additional dialogues are being planned in conjunction with an IMLS grant received by HPL to support immigrant civic engagement. Issues forums on economic security, the achievement gap, and other important topics have been held or are being planned. Another initiative within DIA is Hartford Matters, a new series of public programs initiated in 2011 focusing on important community issues. We are currently in negotiation with potential multimedia partners for the Hartford Matters series.

Progress

HPL has become known as the place in Hartford where democracy, civic engagement, and public discourse happens. Attendance at DIA programs has been uniformly high, ranging from 50 – 250 people. Many DIA programs are videotaped and aired on local public access TV and made available on the library’s web site, thereby reaching many more people. DIA has been a major contributor to the availability of more information at election time.