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Choose Civility, a Community-Wide Campaign

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Choose Civility, a Community-Wide Campaign

Howard County Library System, Md.

Democracy | 2013

Innovation Synopsis

A community-wide initiative led by Howard County Library System, Choose Civility aims to enhance respect, empathy, consideration and tolerance through an initiative with more than 100 partners comprising government, nonprofits, and businesses. Libraries, schools, and cities across the country (from Maine to Oregon to Florida) are joining the civility movement.


With the rise of the 24/7 news cycle, hyper-partisan politics, and rapid advances in technology and social media, incivility is at an all-time high. On local levels, the ability to post anonymous comments online and to avoid face-to-face interactions through social media enables people to be less civil in their conversations and extends bullying from the schoolyard to the Internet. Schools and sports organizations contend with parents bullying coaches, opponents, and their own children. Incivility in the workplace leads to hostile work environments, lost productivity, and lawsuits, and even senior centers are noticing increasing incivility among senior citizens. Libraries deal with unruly and disruptive customers on a daily basis. Following the appearance of Johns Hopkins University Professor Dr. P.M. Forni, author of Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, at Howard County Library System's (HCLS) Professional Development Day in 2006, staff were moved by his words and quickly began talking about creating both an internal and a community-wide initiative. Choose Civility launched in 2007 with a handful of partners and quickly grew to 100 Alliance Partners. It now includes four Choose Civility Chapters across the country (including Washington County, Maryland; Freeborn County, Minnesota; Miami, Florida; and Portland, Maine), with more in development.

Key Elements of Innovation

As lead organization among 125 Choose Civility Alliance Partners, HCLS aspires to further strengthen the unique and timely Choose Civility initiative that serves as a model for the region and beyond. The growing movement has inspired other communities to begin Choose Civility Chapters, including Portland, Maine; Freeborn County, Minnesota; Washington County, Maryland; and Miami, Florida. At HCLS, children's instructors incorporate civility lessons into existing classes throughout the year. Teen workshops have focused on cybersafety and civility, mean girls, and peer-to-peer relationships. Seminars such Conflict Management in the Workplace, Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square, and The Curiosity Concept: Creating Conversations that Change Children's Lives attract adults. At HCLS' Battle of the Books, an academic competition for fifth graders, teams vie for Best Team Civility Award. Every October, HCLS invites the community to celebrate Choose Civility Week through a Choose Civility poster contest, exhibit, and civility-related events. The centerpiece of Choose Civility Week is a symposium. Past themes have included The Role of Civility in Democracy; Building a Responsible, Bully-Free Community; and Would It Kill You to be More Civil. Since 2010, the school system has incorporated its annual Youth Empowerment Summit into the symposium, bringing 200 middle school students (representing each school) together for a morning of leadership exercises and breakout sessions. In the evening, students, parents, teachers, and members of the larger community attend a session that features a panel of nationally recognized scholars to explore the symposium topic. The entire day's events attract more than 500 people and garner positive media coverage. The 2013 theme will focus on multigenerational perspectives on civility in a technology-driven age.

Achieved Outcomes

HCLS created a Choose Civility car magnet, which became so popular that it was challenging to keep up with demand. A symbol of the initiative's popularity and success, the magnet quickly became ubiquitous in the county and inspired a number of imitations and spoofs (e.g., Choose Cycling, Choose Canines, Choose Love, Choose Insanity, Choose Civility OR ELSE). To date, more than 65,000 car magnets have been distributed and spotted locally, regionally, nationally—and even internationally. The magnets also garnered interest from the media, resulting in articles in The Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Wall Street Journal, and The Times of London, interviews on NPR and local television stations, and inclusion in a Canadian documentary about manners. Through social media, Choose Civility reaches more than 600 people through Facebook and more than 600 through Twitter. A quarterly e-newsletter is sent to 300 people locally and around the country. The initiative was the subject of a feature article in the July/August 2011 issue of Public Libraries, a program at the 2012 Public Library Association (PLA) Conference, and a PLA webinar in March 2012. ALA is offering a Choose Civility program at the 2013 ALA Conference. In addition to established Choose Civility Chapters in Portland, Maine; Freeborn County, Minnesota; Washington County, Maryland; and Miami, Florida, other library systems across the country have expressed interest in forming chapters. Regions interested in forming a chapter are invited to download How to Become a Choose Civility Chapter from