Civic mission of libraries online event summary

It was a pleasure participating in this online event today.  The completed event is archived here for anyone to listen and/or watch.  Current and former  ALA Presidents Sarah Long (1999-2000), Nancy Kranich (2000-2001), and Leslie Burger (2006-2007), and Sally Reed, the Executive Director of Friends of the Library USA presented while the 30 participants commented in the chat room.  This presentation was part of a course through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign entitled “Change Management” and was hosted by instructor Taylor Willingham. 

The overall conversation centered around how libraries are the cornerstone of democracy and what this means in the 21st century.   Each person shared their thoughts and took questions from the participants.  Nancy Kranich shared her thoughts about the definition of democracy which included these definitions from past U.S. Presidents:

  • Lyndon Johnson: “Democracy is about voting.”
  • Bill Clinton:  “Democracy is about governance.”
  • Franklin Roosevelt:  “Democracy is about participation.”

Our assembled group agreed that Franklin Roosevelt’s definition more closely aligns with many of our beliefs and with the Web 2.0 direction. 

Then, the question was asked, How do you think the emergence of online communities is affecting the practice of democracy and community engagement in America?

And here were some of the responses:

  • I think online forums have engaged and involved younger people in democratic processes.
  • I think online communities are facilitating discussions that might have taken place in the past in cafes, diners, libraries, postoffices or elsewhere in our communties, and allowing people to discuss and debate ideas in a “safe” arena.

  • and sometimes people participate in online communities using library computers

  • Sometimes I worry that it causes people to withdraw from “their” physical communities and create a sort of “isolation” community.  I think physical contact (eye contact, facial expression, etc.) is very important in communication.

  • And best of all, those conversations are now world wide.  Bloggers have become able to influence the tradition press. Everyone has a voice now.

  • Face to face discussion is essential, and libraries are primary for that.

  • libraries are such a natural place for discussions to take place.  but for that to happen we need to convince our colleagues that to open the library doors to discussing controversial topics.

  •  I think online interaction leads to less isolation, not more, because humans are social animals.  So, democracy certainly includes conversation and interaction.

  • Collaboration begins with building relationships between individuals.

Some great thoughts about libraries, democracy and Web 2.0.  And, even better, the Online Programming for Online Libraries (or OPAL) has sponsored and archived some outstanding presentations.  This is another excellent example of utilizing Web 2.0 tools and the collaborations between different organizations.  

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