Be changed by the conversation Community Engagement at Johnson County Library
Outline What is community engagement? Why does JCL do community engagement? What is community engagement at JCL? What is the future of community engagement in libraries?
What is community engagement? Position Summary: This full-time librarian will function as a member of the JCL Central Reference department with specific responsibilities for supporting the Library’s Citizen Engagement initiative. He or she will develop programs, resources and information services tied to citizen engagement projects, and will work closely with the Information and Readers’ Services Manager to integrate citizen engagement into the ongoing work of the Library. Librarians in Central Reference also have considerable patron contact time and cooperate in the day-to-day management of reference workflow. Qualifications: Required: MLS from an ALA accredited school, public service experience, experience with electronic information resources and technology. Preferred: Experience working with community outreach, citizen engagement, or event planning.
What is community engagement? Democracy – getting people involved in governing Community development – strengthening civic muscle Service learning Community problem-solving – involving citizens in dealing with problems
Democracy Get out the vote Increase awareness of issues on national, state and local levels Increase contact between candidates and constituents
Community development Community involvement “Civic muscle” Volunteerism
Service Learning Academic world Students get real-world experience in their chosen field Students are contributing to their communities
Community problem-solving Citizens working together to solve the problems of their neighborhoods / communities / cities / regions Ex: KCK study circles Ex: One KC Voice transportation engagements Ex: Tyndall, SD creates youth center
Who’s doing it? Federal government Cities Foundations Neighborhood groups Libraries It’s an idea whose time has come.
Putnam’s thesis Social capital is failing 1987 – 53% thought parents’ generation was better in terms of being a concerned citizen 77% thought the nation was worse off because of lack of involvement in community activities
More statistics 1996 – only 8% believed the honesty and integrity of the average American were improving; 50% thought we were becoming less trustworthy Have we become less civil? 80 percent said yes 1999 – 66% thought civic life had weakened 80+% wanted more emphasis on community
What Putnam saw Downward trends in political participation (voting, participating in campaigns, attending rallies) Civic participation (membership in organizations) Religious participation Workplace connections (union membership, professional associations)
More bad news Informal social connections were also weakening Declines in social visiting, family dinners, card playing Sports participation is down, but spectating is up Doing culture is down, consuming culture is up; % of Americans who play an instrument down from 30% to 20% bet. 1976 and 1999.
Why? Time and money pressures Mobility and sprawl Technology and mass media Generational change – WWII was a watershed
So what? Social capital allows people to solve community problems “greases the wheels” Contributes to tolerance, empathy Effects on education, health, safe neighborhoods, economic prosperity democracy
Call to action Restore American community Improve civics education Increase participation in extracurricular activities Make workplaces more family friendly and congenial Urban planning initiatives to strengthen neighborhoods and reduce sprawl
Call to action, cont. Religious involvement and tolerance Use technology to support community engagement rather than weaken it Use the arts as a means of bringing people together Find ways to encourage people to participate in the public life of their communities
The challenges to community engagement Polarization Who are our conversation role models? Disenchantment Disenfranchisement Disengagement
Was the 2004 election stolen? Discrepancy between exit polls and results Republican voters were less likely to talk to younger poll takers. Poll takers associated with liberal media outlets “People avoided talking to those they thought had political leanings different from their own.”
Where did we start? First forum in 2001 Used the National Issues Forums model Had a committee to oversee the project Initially had plans for speakers once a year and panel discussions Goal was to
National Issues Forums http://www.nifi.org Around since 1981 “To increase citizen understanding of domestic policy issues and provide citizens with opportunities to express and convey informed opinions on the issues to the nation's decision makers.”
National Issues Forums Dialogue and deliberation Three approaches Find common ground Forum is not a town hall meeting. It’s not a question and answer session. It’s a conversation.
Other events of community interest Engagements – public input on community issues (transportation, solid waste management) Dialogues – science and religion, interfaith conversation Events – recycling, children and nature
How do we put on a forum? Choose a topic Choose a guide Choose a date Find moderators
How do we put on a forum? Cont. Market Email list Mailing list Cold calling Manage reservations, catering Prepare handouts, take-aways, packets
More about take-aways Give attendees ways to: learn more do more get involved Market library resources Books, articles, databases Point to internet resources Ex: web sites, Google alerts Market for organizations who helped publicize Market other library events
Web site http://www.jocolibrary.org/issues Blog Upcoming events Event archive Related events Comments – have never gotten one!
The future … dun dundun! Take on some local issues. Develop an online component. Develop new partnerships. Do more assessment and follow-up.
Why do community engagement? We’re already doing it. We aren’t just about books, and it’s not all on the Internet. Library as third place. Strong libraries can help build strong communities which then help build strong libraries. Why not?
My advice Be prepared for chaos. Experiment. Ask for help.