To Restore Civil Society, Start with the Library

Stephanie Bailey-White's picture

This weekend, the New York Times published the following editorial by sociologist Eric Klinenberg, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/08/opinion/sunday/civil-society-library..... Klinenberg asserts that libraries are losing the support of public officials in part “because so few influential people understand the expansive role that libraries play in modern communities.” Last week I had the privilege of attending the Urban Library Council’s annual meeting where several area politicians addressed the attendees by sharing their memories of using the library as a child. While these stories can be heartwarming, as they often helped lay the foundation for a literate and inspired leader in the community, I long to hear more stakeholders talk about what the library is doing for their communities TODAY.

In communities like McCall, the library’s monthly “Doing Democracy” community discussions promote dialogue about issues that face the community by creating a culture of civil discourse that allows for multiple perspectives, creative conflict, and the discovery of common ground. Other Idaho libraries are focusing on economic development while others are working with school districts and community partners to ensure more students enter school with the tools and resources that will help them be successful. STEM tools and maker labs are now available throughout the state. Meridian District Library staff members are literally going door-to-door this month to reach out to community newcomers and others to share information about library services in an effort to engage those who haven’t discovered all the library has to offer.

How can we share the story of all the transformative services libraries now offer and move key stakeholders beyond their nice, but nostalgic, views of public and school libraries? I’d love to hear your thoughts.