Libraries Drive Civic Engagement in Thriving Communities

October 12th, 2011

New Publication Touts Effective Leadership Strategies

The Urban Libraries Council (ULC) announces publication of Library Priority: Community-Civic Engagement. This monograph, second in a series of knowledge briefs for library leaders and local government officials, highlights the essential role that public libraries play in getting people involved in activities that characterize thriving communities: voting and volunteerism, participating in civic and social organizations, working together to address tough challenges.

With knowledgeable staff, facilities, information/technology resources and deep programmatic skills, libraries have the stature and capacity to lead dynamic citizen dialogue. Library Priority: Community-Civic Engagement describes how successful libraries can move from being supporting players to valued leaders in efforts to increase citizen engagement.

The brief distills five key strategies that library leaders can pursue to become the “go-to” resource for building a culture of engaged citizenry:

Be a Civic Educator: libraries are lifelong learning institutions and should leverage this role to build the awareness, skills, knowledge and motivation that promote civic engagement;Convene Conversations: libraries are natural forums for people with different perspectives and priorities to talk and work together;
Build Bridges: libraries stand at the center of communities, serving multiple populations with disparate needs and can bring people together to problem-solve toward mutually beneficial goals;Create Vision for the Future: libraries should lead efforts to create inclusive positive, forward-thinking community visions;Be the Center for Democracy in Action: libraries must walk, talk, think and act as the place where public discourse, civic engagement and democracy come to life.

The Springfield City Library in Massachusetts provides a vivid example of civic leadership. In 2010, the Library broadened its long-range planning process to focus on contributing to the city’s overall economic recovery. Using community focus groups and regular connections with city officials, the Library helped create new goals for the City. The Library’s effort drew praise from city leaders and led to a new city hall focus on long-range planning with library staff serving on every committee. When the Mayor was asked about priorities in the face of state budget cuts, he said he would protect “core services such as public safety and libraries,” adding that in tough economic times “people want their libraries open.” ULC honored the Springfield City Library with one of its “Top Innovators” awards in June 2011.

“Springfield exemplifies how library and local leaders can work together," said Susan Benton, President and CEO of ULC. “Too often, our colleagues in city and county leadership are unaware of the civic engagement opportunities that libraries offer while they struggle to organize and facilitate meaningful interaction with the public.”