Arianna Huffington represents what’s possible in America with the right set of personal tools – courage, chutzpah, knowledge, and a deep understanding of what it means to be an American.  With Huffington Post, she has created a means for millions every day to get engage in their world, their countries and in their communities. She knows the importance of civic engagement to forming a more perfect union.

Hartford Public Library also clearly recognizes the important role it plays in civic engagement. The breadth of programs we already offer under the aegis of civic and community engagement is impressive and innovative. They range from traditional education services that provide valuable information and skills to broader political and civic roles, such as serving as a state community redistricting site, managing community services for growing immigrant populations, and building databases that centralize vital community and government information for improved decision making.

Over the past decade, the Library has become increasingly concerned about and committed to strengthening the foundations of community and civic engagement—volunteering, voting, participating in civic and social organizations, engaging in activities that strengthen community, participating in public dialogues and problem solving sessions, and working to make a difference in their communities. Working with local government leaders, in particular, we have broadened their approaches to engaging citizens by moving from traditional representative governance to democratic governance where citizens work directly with public officials in participatory, inclusive, deliberative, and collaborative ways.

The long-term benefits of increasing civic and community awareness, engagement, and activity are well documented. Research and experience have shown that engaged and empowered citizens generate optimism about the future, produce good decisions on tough community challenges, and contribute to economic success and individual well-being. Public libraries, with their sustained stature as the most trusted government entity, are ideal resources to shape and lead discussions, decisions, and strategies that encourage active and purposeful civic engagement.

While some may see the stock of social capital plummeting, public libraries generate and nurture social capital. While local officials worry that technology-driven public engagement will create new digital divides and increase disconnectedness, libraries have already built the infrastructure and capacity to ensure broad access to and skill in using technology resources. And, while lingering mistrust of government institutions among some populations contributes to civic apathy, libraries maintain their standing as a highly-trusted and valued public resource.

Moving from respected supporting player to consistent and valued leader requires a clear definition of the scope of library civic service and development of strategic agendas that broaden the impact of library action, measure and report on outcomes, and position the library as the go-to civic and community engagement resource.

Ms. Huffington believes in the power of public libraries: “With the public library’s stature as democracy’s best promise, the transition to civic engagement leader is both necessary and long overdue.

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