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Choose Civility

Howard County Library System, Md.

Democracy | 2018

Innovation Synopsis

Maryland became the first state to implement Choose Civility, an initiative led by Howard County Library System that celebrates diversity while promoting values of respect, empathy, compassion and inclusiveness. Through HCLS, the Maryland State Library provided grants to public libraries to create and implement Choose Civility activities and events.


In this era of divisiveness and partisanship, the Choose Civility initiative plays a critical role in bringing people together to build community. Through such events as The Human Library and The Longest Table, people from all backgrounds engage in radical exchanges of empathy through face-to-face and one-on-one conversations. Such exchanges increase understanding, promote inclusion, foster civil discourse and bridge divides. Choose Civility strengthens libraries’ roles as community leaders and change agents.

Key Elements of Innovation

HCLS hosted a Choose Civility summit for every Maryland public library system to share its expertise and experiences, lead brainstorming sessions and inspire libraries to participate. Collaborating with MSL, HCLS administered the statewide grant for libraries to create and implement such events as The Human Library, The Longest Table (hundreds of people gather for a meal and converse around one long table), speaker series, book discussion groups, staff training around inclusion and exhibits.

Achieved Outcomes

Since receiving a 2013 ULC Innovation Honorable Mention, Choose Civility has been enhanced and amplified through statewide implementation. Since the summit, four public libraries became Choose Civility Chapters, 14 public libraries became Choose Civility Affiliates and approximately 40 Choose Civility classes and events were offered throughout the state, including five Human Libraries and four Longest Tables. Through these activities, libraries built new relationships, encouraged conversations and increased engagement around community issues.