Creating Space for Civic Dialogue: California Humanities Council and Riverside County Library System

The California Humanities Council (also known as Cal Humanities) is a non-profit that promotes the humanities in California to help create “a state of open mind.” The council produces, funds, and supports cultural experiences in media, literature, and discussion programs. The Riverside County Library System serves the residents of Riverside County, California and was the California Humanities Council's primary partner, in addition to the Center for Civic Reflection, in this project.

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From the beginning, we recognized that civic reflection had the potential to have a transformative effect on our staff. In particular, we hoped that our staff would develop the ability to see their libraries and themselves differently, that they would come to regard the library as a meeting place and a crossroads for the community. This program gives us the opportunity to push our programming to a new level.

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--Mark Smith

Riverside County Library System

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We are heartened by the results of this program and the librarians' embrace of becoming catalysts for civic dialogue... We plan to expand the program and are delighted to have the Center for Civic Reflection and the Riverside County Library System as partners.

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--Vanessa Whang

Director of Programs, California Council for the Humanities

Audience Focus

34 library staff

Goals

  1. Build the capacity of library staff to convene civic dialogues and establish libraries as centers for civic engagement
  2. Train librarians as discussion facilitators and provide ongoing resources and support
  3. Build new partnerships between libraries, community members, and service/civic organizations

Project Description

From 2009-2011, the Center for Civic Reflection was the training consultant for the "Making a Difference" program, now known as “Now We're Talking." The program was developed by the California Council for the Humanities and the Riverside County Library System to build civic engagement public programming into branch libraries. CCR trained 34 library staff to engage community members in meaningful civic dialogue and provided ongoing program consultation and evaluation support.

By actively engaging their patrons in civic discourse, many of the librarians felt that they were transforming libraries into "community living rooms" where community members could exchange ideas and viewpoints. Each branch library developed its own public, theme-based civic engagement discussion program to meet the needs of its surrounding community. For example, one librarian used song lyrics by Jay-Z and Mos Def and speeches by Cornel West to engage local youth in conversations about gang violence and violence prevention. Two other librarians engaged Spanish-speaking adults who used the library as an afterschool safe space for their children, working with their group to determine community topics and conversations that would be meaningful to them.

Throughout the program, librarians gained skills in facilitating civic dialogue and developed a community of practice for peer learning and mentorship. They also reached out to community and service organizations to be partners in these dialogues, as well as political and elected officials. The California Council for the Humanities is currently working to expand the program to other library systems in California, with the hope that it will help libraries inhabit their role as hubs of community life.

Impact

  1. Increased capacity of libraries to deliver civic engagement and dialogue programming.
  2. 100% of library staff reported developing new partnerships as a result of their dialogues, including civic and political leaders.
  3. 100% of library branches reported attracting and engaging new patrons and community members to interact with library resources and with one another.
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