The American Library Association (ALA) and the Kettering Foundation have signed a research agreement to establish a Center for Public Life. The Center will train librarians from different types of libraries to convene and moderate deliberative forums and frame issues of local and national concern, using National Issues Forums materials and processes.
During the first year, ALA will form an advisory committee and begin training moderators to convene and conduct local deliberative forums. Initially, the new Centers will tap into the experience of libraries already convening deliberative forums. They will form the hub of a network of active mentors capable of strengthening and expanding their work locally, statewide and nationally and connecting it with other forum conveners throughout the country.
Unlike other such Centers, ALA will provide training to members of a single profession—librarianship, in different locations around the country. The ALA Center will document the growing involvement of libraries with deliberation and the challenges and opportunities they face in conducting a nation-wide program that supports local public institutions such as libraries.
Since the founding of the Kettering Foundation’s National Issues Forums in the 1980’s, libraries have hosted and some have even convened these and other types of forums like Study Circles, Choices and Conversation Cafés. For many years, ALA has worked with libraries to encourage public deliberation, hosting moderator training sessions and other programs related to community building and engagement. A recent survey of librarians for the Kettering Foundation found strong interest in convening deliberative forums. But two-thirds of respondents said they needed training in order to participate, with most indicating that they were likely to participate in an ALA sponsored training program—particularly if it was affordable, nearby and/or electronic.
ALA’s proposal was developed by ALA past president (and NCDD member) Nancy Kranich, with the assistance of NCDD Board member Taylor Willingham and Mary Ghikas. Kranich and Willingham founded the ALA Libraries Foster Civic Engagement Membership Initiative Group (MIG) in 2004 to advance dialogue and deliberation through libraries. Over the past few years, the MIG has worked with the Intellectual Freedom Roundtable to frame the issue of privacy. That framing will be part of the Office of Intellectual Freedom Privacy Revolution that will launch in the spring of 2010. The new PPI will teach librarians how to moderate deliberative forums about privacy in local communities.