Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Civic Engagement and Libraries

Number 5 of the ACRL Standards for Information Literacy is given short shrift by librarians other than in the areas of copyright and plagiarism.
The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.
One learning outcome we have tried to use here at SUNY Oswego is:
Students at the Intermediate (Sophmore/Junior) level will be able to: Appreciate the contributions of shared library resources and of librarians’ expertise to the benefit of communities and organizations
Also here at Oswego, we have made a commitment to "civic engagement", described here in our Civic Engagement Coalition's mission statement:

The mission of the Civic Engagement Coalition at SUNY Oswego is to promote democratic practice and values among students, faculty, and staff to create and coordinate purposeful experiences within and beyond the classroom and to develop knowledge, skills, motivation, and practice necessary for becoming responsible, engaged citizens in a pluralistic, democratic society.
So what can we do with this? First we need to recognize the three ways that community libraries intersect with civic engagement.

First, virtually all public libraries and many academic and school libraries are created through civic engagement. In most cases, one or more community members founded the library in order to benefit that same community.

Secondly, community libraries promote education and literacy and provide a continuing stream of information. As a result, libraries contribute to debates and discourses on public policy and strengthen the practice of democracy. Librarians also defend important human rights and democratic values, such as freedom of speech and equal treatment of all citizens.

Finally, libraries and librarians continue to work and to grow because of the support of their communities and governments. Libraries are in fact the prototype for a particular kind of cooperative civic economics, sometimes called the "commons". Patrons pay their taxes and tuition as their share of support for the library, and do so without a defined expectation of benefit. In most cases, the benefit is limited only by the individuals capacity to read and use the resources of the library.

So libraries serve as a crucible for civic engagement. And this springs not only from the library as "a growing organism," but also from the imperative, "Every reader his or her book," and its corollary, "Books for all."

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