Just a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the biennial conference of the Public Library Association in Minneapolis. I went to all kinds of sessions, with topics ranging from leadership, services to the GLBT community, readers’ advisory, a romance author panel, to recruiting and educating new librarians. I learned about many fun and exciting things that other libraries are doing, and it was truly inspiring to gather with thousands of other librarians who are working so hard to serve you, The Public.
One of the most interesting sessions I attended, however, was one called “Bridging the Divide: Libraries Transform Communities.” All about civic participation and citizen engagement, the session focused on the use of deliberative dialogue to discuss the most challenging and divisive issues we face, both locally and nationally. As we get ready to go to the polls tomorrow, and again in November, the ideas and approaches I discovered seemed especially timely. Politicians seem to find it necessary to debate, differentiating their point of view from their opponents and doing their best to convince us that they know best; however, as a society, we may want to take a different course.
The basis of deliberative dialogue is gaining an understanding of multiple perspectives of an issue. In fact, an essential part of the process is to explore at least three or more approaches to each issue, which serves as a starting place for developing entirely new solutions. Which is where the library comes into the picture as a central place that provides information on any topic one might want to address. These programs, in which groups of citizens gather to speak with one another, to explore the issues, and to build consensus, are offered all over the country, in libraries, schools, community centers and other settings.
While I would love to offer such a program here at this library (let us know if you’re interested by commenting or emailing!), we don’t have to wait for a formal session to learn about viewpoints other than our own. In addition to many, many books, and several magazine and newspaper databases that provide news articles about a myriad of topics, there are three databases that are here for the purpose of learning the multiple sides of current issues. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center, Facts.com: Issues and Controversies, and CQ Researcher gather book chapters, articles, essays, and other full-text reports. All three are available from inside and outside the library with a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh library card, so you can start discovering how others might be thinking about an issue right now! Bring your new-found knowledge to your next “discussion” with your brother-in-law or your neighbor. It could make the next six months a whole new experience for you.