ALA Center for Public Life Team Participates in AmericaSpeaks Civic Engagement Retreat, November 3-5, 2010
American Library Association (ALA) Center for Civic Life (CPL) advisors participated in an AmericaSpeaks retreat on November 3-5, 2010, to position national and local partners to build capacity to convene the public in local, state, or regional neutral deliberation on important issues. AmericaSpeaks serves as a non-partisan convener of forums that provide the public with an opportunity to make decisions about important issues without fear of manipulation or bias. Participating in the retreat were teams from nineteen communities that took part in a June 26, 2010 national dialogue with 3,500 citizens from a broad cross-section of America about America’s fiscal future. The results of the discussion were presented to President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, leading Members of Congress, and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force.
Librarians from the Johnson County, Kansas, Public Library, led by library director Donna Lauffer, represented one of those communities, having hosted one of the National Town Meeting sites for citizens to deliberate about Our Budget, Our Economy. Two other local teams included librarians: one from Grand Forks, North Dakota, was joined by library director Wendy Wendt, and another from Columbia, South Carolina, included Tony Tallent, Director of Literacy and Learning at the Richland County, SC, Public Library.
Among the national partners joining AmericaSpeaks was a team of four ALA members from ALA’s new Center for Public Life, including Nancy Kranich (chair of the Center’s Advisory Committee), Mary Ghikas (ALA staff liaison), Carolyn Caywood (Virginia Beach Public Library) and Carlton Sears (Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County). Attendees had a chance to learn from others who have organized local citizen engagement projects. They also used the workshop to apply their learning to planning next steps for their efforts.
Prior to attending the workshop, the ALA team put together a list of communities involved with dialogue and deliberation. A map of those communities was superimposed with other local efforts involved with such groups as the National Issues Forums Institute, AmericaSpeaks, Everyday Democracy, the League of Women Voters, and the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Many participants expressed interest in working more closely with ALA and local libraries to deepen their public deliberation efforts. ALA looks forward to developing a partnership with America Speaks, working together to build capacity nationally and locally to advance citizen engagement in the issues challenging the country.
The American Library Association launched the Center for Public Life in conjunction with the Kettering Foundation in late 2009. The Center trains librarians from different types of libraries to convene and moderate deliberative forums and frame issues of local and national concern. During the first year, ALA formed an advisory committee and began training moderators to convene and conduct local deliberative forums on an issue framed by members: privacy. The Center serves as a hub of a network of active mentors capable of strengthening and expanding their work locally, statewide and nationally, and connecting it with other forum conveners throughout the country. Unlike similar centers that exist around the country, ALA provides training to members of a single profession—librarianship, in different locations around the country and documents the growing involvement of libraries with deliberation. For many years, ALA has worked with libraries to encourage public deliberation, hosting moderator training sessions and other programs related to community building and engagement.
For more information, contact Mary Ghikas (email@example.com) at ALA or Nancy Kranich, firstname.lastname@example.org