Virginia Beach Public Library

In the late 1990s, citizens in Virginia Beach did not trust their local government.  In response, the city manager hired a public engagement specialist who convened a group of city staff, citizens, and scholars who planned a civic academy at the public library.  Over the next few years, citizens, and public officials worked with librarians to name, frame, and deliberate about local issues. These citizens became not only better informed, but also more capable of making choices together. In addition, they activated the civic potential of the public library. The Virginia Beach Public Library has reclaimed its role as promoter of strong democracy–a community place where a diversity of citizens can connect across the spectrum of thought. In Virginia Beach, the one hundred citizens that worked with librarians to collect and assess community concerns about redevelopment learned together about civic action and participated in democratic discourse for the first time. In addition to naming and framing local issues, the library offers a series of deliberative forums, where one participant recently stated: “You ought to do this every month, only with different topics.” Another stated, “I grew up in a small town where citizen involvement was part of life. Community discussions like this are something we need to do more often.”

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