Civic Engagement in Libraries

Civic Engagement in Libraries

This year, an unprecedented Presidential Election happened to coincide with a decennial census and a global pandemic. As trusted institutions in America, libraries are being called upon more than ever as centers for resources to prepare community members for participation in several cornerstones of democracy.

Voter Registration

Libraries provide accessible voter registration applications and information on how to register for new voters. It is common to see library displays featuring applications alongside related library materials. At the California College of Arts, faculty, staff, and students are using their artwork to spread the word about voting this election season. At the Riverside County Law Library, they are providing printed Easy Voter Guides to hand out. Stevenson University Library in Maryland had staff tabling around campus to answer student’s questions about the upcoming election. Libraries use their marketing platforms to encourage voting via their social media channels and email newsletters. Some of our ByWater Solutions partners even use their custom Koha OPACs to further advertise these efforts through the RSS Feed News feature and by adding their social media channels right to their catalogs.

Vote artwork for designed by CCA faculty member Michael Wertz, assistant chair of the Illustration program.

Hosting Events

Library spaces play a vital role in the democratic process by being a physical host to many important events throughout the year. While the Presidential Election is always a big one, library spaces are also a hub of information for important local elections throughout the year. Civic engagement groups use library meeting spaces to gather and plan for their causes. The Supervisor of Elections regularly uses library spaces for Poll Worker Training, Early Voting Sites, and Voting Day Precincts. Additionally, libraries host informative workshops to prevent voter misinformation. Salinas Public Library has been hosting Make Your Vote Count Workshops, in English and Spanish, to answer questions such as finding your correct voting site, requesting a ballot, and submitting a ballot.

Census 2020

The 2020 Census has been rife with challenges the last several months. Legal fights over Census questions. Understaffing. A reluctance to give out personal information. Social unrest. A pandemic. Shifting deadlines. The irony is that an accurate Census is needed more than ever in this current climate. Census data not only informs Congressional representation, community resources, and emergency disaster strategies but, according to the American Library Association, it will also be imperative in allocating over $1 billion in federal funding for libraries. Libraries understand firsthand how ensuring a full and fair count for every community is essential. Library social media accounts have been advertising the extended Census deadline and libraries like Cherry Hill Public Library dedicated entire sections of their website to Census resources.

Cherry Hill Public Library website dedicated to Census resources.

Tax Preparation

Before we know it, tax season will be in full swing at many of our libraries across the United States. From January to April each year, millions of people receive free tax assistance from organizations like AARP and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). This year, these free services will be especially important. 2020 taxes will be more complicated with unemployment claims, job transitions, stimulus payments, the CARES Act tax adjustments, and whatever else may go into effect before the end of the year. Whether the appointments end up being virtual or in person, libraries are already making preparations for this busy time. Using the News feature in Koha, libraries can clearly display this important event information prominently on the front of their OPAC.

Libraries play an essential role in the democratic process and at ByWater Solutions, we strive to provide libraries the best software and support so libraries can continue their important work.

Read more by Kalleen Marquise