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The September Project, or variations thereof

info-commons has already pointed out this initiative, but I have a variation on it that I've been meaning to muse about aloud ...

First, The September Project:

On the weekend of September 11th, 2004, The September Project will organize multiple public spaces where citizens can participate collectively and think creatively about our country, our government, and our media, and bring forth the well-informed voice of the American citizenry.

Libraries are ideal hosts for such public and nationally-distributed events. Libraries provide all citizens open and free access to information. Almost all communities in the US have at least one library. There are over 16,000 in the US, and that's not including university, research, K-12, and church libraries. In other words, libraries constitute an already existing national infrastructure. Moreover, 96% of public libraries in the US are wired. Therefore, libraries also constitute a national and distributed media infrastructure.

Local libraries know their communities better than anyone. Based on feedback from libraries, we foresee these events being planned and organized by the libraries in support of their community. Some of the events might include:

talks: Invite local authors, poets, media professionals, and politicians to speak on a topic, then engage the audience to participate in further discussions.

round tables: Organize local professionals to offer various perspectives on topics like the Patriot Act, education, health care, and democracy.

performances: Coordinate local cultural and artistic organizations to perform or exhibit art.

deliberations: Conduct group discussions around questions regarding what it means to be an American? What works in America? What needs to be improved?

readings: Choose a shared text. For example: The Bill of Rights for adults and another book for young children. The adults could discuss the text in a book club format; the children's book could be read aloud by a local firefighter and then discussed.

This sounds like a very worthwhile project and I hope that a lot of libraries participate in this.

My twist on this would be slightly different, for a slightly different audience. What about a special 9/11-inspired teach-in at various library schools? Students can either go to all of their regular courses and those courses would have a special one-time curriculum, or they could all meet together in a joint forum to discuss the practical, technical and philosophical implications of that past event or any future catastrophic event. It can be broken down by subject area:

  • Library administration and management: basic disaster/crisis planning; does the library stay open and for how long; how to handle staff concerns/morale
  • Reference: how to gather and disseminate emergency information; how to deal with problematic behaviour by patrons in crisis conditions; preventing information overload; discerning good information from speculation/rumour
  • Collection management: how to respond quickly to demands for new/more materials in unfamiliar subject areas
  • Intellectual freedom: balancing safety/security concerns with privacy and confidentiality concerns; reporting potential/actual suspects; access to sensitive materials
  • Archive/records management: again, basic disaster planning; back-up systems and off-site storage; post-crisis access, inventory, restoration

And so forth. It's not that I wouldn't want to participate in the larger discussions anticipated by the September Project group, but I think this would be a great opportunity to 1) revisit the actions of various libraries on September 11, 2001 and evaluate what was/wasn't/should have been done, 2) tie some more abstract issues that may be short shrift to more concrete or more popular ones, and 3) really think about how supposedly standard practices and core values of librarianship are applied (or not) and how they will be (or not) in crisis situations, regardless of severity and scope.

Just a thought.

Thanks to Peter Levine for the initial heads-up.