What can journalists and libraries do to create opportunities for local news and civic engagement?
Leading-edge thinkers in both fields have come together recently in several different venues to explore answers to this question. The early feedback on these discussions is that this is a worthwhile topic to discuss at a critical time for both institutions.
In April, Journalism That Matters convened a ground-breaking “Beyond Books” conversation among journalists and librarians at MIT’s Center for Civic Media. JTM’s Biblionews website is full of ideas for connections to explore, including information on pilot projects that are underway since the gathering at MIT. There is also an inspiring 7-minute video of the conference produced by the very talented Jacob Caggiano that describes what journalists and librarians can do together.
Bill Densmore and Mike Fancher, who along with Peggy Holman are key leaders directing JTM’s fantastic work on innovating journalism at the local level, brought the discussion to the annual conference of the American Library Association, held in late June in New Orleans.
Mike presented his newly released white paper, Re-imagining Journalism: Local News for a Networked World, as part of a panel discussion on effective partnerships between libraries and journalists that create opportunities for local news and civic engagement. He also outlined how libraries are addressed in several of the other white papers on implementing the broad set of recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, a theme we will explore in future blog posts. Mike was joined on the panel by Nancy Kranich, founder and leader of ALA’s Center for Public Life and ALA’s civic engagement membership initiative, and Annie Anderson, who heads the LibrariUS initiative at American Public Media. (Due to travel delays, Bill did not make it to New Orleans for the panel.) The two-hour session on “Competing in the Information Marketplace II: Strategic PR partnerships — Journalists and Libraries,” was hosted by the Library Leadership and Management Association.
Mike’s key takeaways from the ALA discussion, summarized on the Biblionews website, include ideas that resonate with the Knight Commission’s Informing Communties report:
Librarians see civic engagement as an important element in what they do and how they make their case for public support. Civic engagement helps democracy, but it also has economic benefits to communities.
Digital literacy is a core competency of libraries. It needs to be actively advanced and promoted.
Institutional inertia could be a barrier in some library systems. Students are being trained for a new library culture, but the needed cultural change may come slowly in some systems. (This is a great topic to explore for libraries and journalism.)
People are excited about early results from LibrariUS, a partnership among the American Public Media Public, the ALA and its Public Library Association division. Attendees offered several ideas and examples for extending it.
Several people spoke glowing about their experience at the Biblionews conference at MIT in April. Two items stood out: 1) the JTM methodology for bringing together people from different backgrounds and disciplines; 2) the use of information technology to capture the experience immediately and permanently. The librarians were particularly interested in the second item.
The library community is ready to move ahead; bringing journalists along may be a tougher challenge. (That’s my view, not the librarians’.)
Higher education needs to be a partner.
Among ideas raised by others in attendance were the possibility of libraries helping to map local news and information ecosystems and new ways to extend the Public Insight Network’s partnership with the ALA and its Public Library Association Division (described in the JTM video).