Public Library Offers Opportunities for Civic Engagement
A forum on an upcoming school referendum vote at the L.D. Fargo Public Library. A “Coffee With A Cop” program at the Watertown Public Library. A lecture and discussion series on America’s Founding Fathers at the New Berlin Public Library. These are just three examples of recent programs at area libraries focusing on civic engagement and information gathering.
After the program in New Berlin, I asked some participants why they came and what they took away from the discussion. “It’s nice to get other people’s input,” one woman told me. “Sometimes they confirm your thoughts on what you think. Sometimes you learn something new.”
Voters Have Right To Be Informed
Between the lawn signs, social media posts, and slew of radio and TV advertisements, there can be no doubt this is election season. On November 6th, we will have the chance to vote for our government representatives on the issues that matter most to us. As voters, it’s imperative to understand the issues, know our communities’ needs, and make decisions based on facts. It’s called civic engagement, and it’s the concept that citizens have the right and responsibility to be involved and informed in civic matters. Information is everywhere nowadays, but in an era of fake news, media bias, and extreme political divides, it isn’t easy to discern the facts and know which sources you can trust. Incidentally, the best place to find accurate information and engage with your neighbors on key issues is the library.
Contrary to popular belief, libraries aren’t here to store books. Libraries were founded in the belief that access to information is a public good, so the responsibility of every library is to ensure that information and ideas are always available to anyone who needs them. Information and ideas may come from a book or an Internet search; a librarian taking the time to find what someone is looking for; or even a conversation with another person about controversial issues.
Library Makes Information Accessible To All
Equal access to information is key to a healthy democracy. In a library, community members will always have a safe place to ask questions and find answers. Free materials and research tools are available for anyone to use. In addition, libraries provide a forum for speaking and listening, where discourse and ideas are shared through real conversation. And information professionals (a.k.a. librarians) help people navigate the information world, both online and in print, so each person can make their own choices armed with the information they need. Engaged and informed citizens build strong communities, and the library plays a crucial role in making that happen.
On November 6th, it will be every citizen’s civic duty to know the facts and cast a ballot. As the election gets closer, I encourage you to turn to the library for the information you need, and support the library with your voice and vote.