Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility and Compassion in the Public Library

Editor’s Note: In case you missed it, this week we’re featuring blog posts on ALA Annual Conference programs. This entry focuses “Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility and Compassion in the Public Library,” where attendees learned about a new programming grant for public libraries.

In light of the still recent natural disasters and subsequent struggles it has seen, New Orleans is the perfect place to talk about civility and compassion in our communities. Mary Davis Fournier talked to conference-goers about the new program grant, “Building Common Ground” from the ALA Public Programs Office (PPO). Open to thirty public libraries, this $2, 500 grant challenges libraries to open the discussion of civility up in their communities. The subjects of human compassion and civil respect are growing in popularity. The grant partner, the Fetzer Institute, develops project that address these topics.

With no religious affiliation, the Fetzer Institute’s mission is to promote love, forgiveness, and compassion in the world. They are involved with a number of PBS projects, including major documentaries, and with the ALA’s “Let’s Talk About It: Love and Forgiveness” program. Their work is what inspired the Building Common Ground program. Since “love” and “forgiveness” can be charged words, PPO has revised the focus to be on community, civility, and compassion—a long overdo discussion to bring up in our communities.

The program invites reflection in the form of books, films, video clips, and focused questions; engagement through panel discussions, guest lectures, and group conversations; and action through service projects, tours, and group activities. Providing four to eight multiformat program templates, the grant encourages chosen libraries to mold their program specifically to their community. To help libraries create their programs, resources provided by PPO include recommended reading lists of books on civility and compassion with discussion guides already in them (such as Hearing the Call Across Traditions, The Civically Engaged Reader), recommended viewing lists of video shorts, service project and partnership recommendations, and speakers bureaus.

Discussion about the new program included valid concerns of possible confrontations arising from political or religious philosophies between patrons. Mary suggested facilitation training to all participating libraries before the implementation of the program. A good point brought up was the suggestion of using existing action projects, such as Frontline. Overall, attendees agreed that the program may be tricky to implement, but that there is a growing desire for this kind of discussion in the communities that public libraries serve, and it can happen.