Knowing the ultimate reason we are doing what we’re doing is so important, allowing us to work backwards to make sure we are maximizing limited resources but also helping to assure we are using processes consistent with the end goal. I often find it takes a lot of soul searching to distinguish interim hoped for outcomes from deeper impact goals. In my case, strong community remains my vision. But this utopian ideal itself is an ongoing process that never finishes even if it can be reached just as our personal health is something we must continue to maintain. So then, stepping back one level I think it is accurate to say I hope the impact of my body of work is the central, ongoing process of community building by supporting citizens to affect social change.
Both the professional and personal aspects of my life have me engaging with community to address a variety of local issues through libraries, schools, churches, community centers, etc. Some work is in collaboration with Fab Lab and Maker programming within these spaces. But throughout, I try to use approaches like community inquiry, demystifying technology, computational and design thinking, popular education, and the humanities (history, philosophy, social studies, etc.) to assure the programs and activities lead ultimately advances citizens affecting social change. By citizens, I mean all constituents associated with a community, where difference is seen as a resource we need to actively work to expand and leverage. In other words, we need to identify exclusionary social forces such as racism, agism, ablism, sexism, etc., and the economic and political structures that reinforce those social axes of exclusion, and work as allies to dismantle them.
For citizens to affect social change, we need to constantly work to build their knowledge power. (I highly recommend Randy Stoecker’s recent paper, “What If?“, as a resource to learn more about this concept.) Focusing on my special area of expertise as part of the Center for Digital Inclusion within the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, I’m continuing to explore the ways professionals within libraries, as the people’s university, and schools are especially well suited to play a lead role in the development and ongoing support of citizens’ effective information seeking behaviors. (Carol Kuhlthau’s paper on guided inquiry for 21st century school libraries is a great source for understanding this ideas further.) We may also play some role in helping citizens translate information to knowledge. Our spaces may also be sites where this knowledge is put into action as others take up the leadership role, although action often may need resources and facilities beyond what libraries and schools can provide. (Library Journal did a recent article on how library director Scott Bonner made sure the Ferguson Public Library was available when needed during the activities surrounding the police shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent grand jury verdict.) Ultimately, informed action leads to further discussion and reflection, building up citizen power over their situation, helping them to enter into new information-knowledge-action-power cycles on stronger footings.
Not much of this is new, but instead is a continued refinement of my ideas on community engagement and dialogue, forms of social change, and librarians as engagement leaders. I hope to receive your comments on how this framework is helpful, and how it might be further refined, to consider the impacts of our community engagement work.
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