Libraries encourage civic engagement
By JUSTIN WADLAND
Libraries around the world are busily preparing for Sept. 11. Throughout September and October, they will open their doors to activities and displays that encourage civic engagement.
At the Seattle Public Library, Ray Suarez, a senior correspondent at PBS, will speak about immigration issues and a film series will explore the experiences of immigrants in the United States. Suzzallo Library, on the University of Washington campus, will display media coverage of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, from the first news reports to recent books and movies. At my own library on the University of Washington-Tacoma campus, we are organizing film screenings and panel discussions that will investigate the impact of the War on Terror at home and abroad.
Over the past three years, hundreds of libraries around the world have organized similar events for the September Project, a movement to encourage people to gather at libraries in recognition of Sept. 11. All the activities occur around a date associated with significant loss and change, but the September Project is not about commemorating Sept. 11.
It's about libraries serving as places for people to talk about and engage in core American values -- democracy, citizenship and freedom -- that have eroded in waves of fear and war. "We saw it as an opportunity to take back Patriot Day," one participant told me, referring to the official designation of Sept. 11. Many who have planned activities in their libraries share this sentiment. As the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, more than 350 libraries invite the kind of noise that strengthens civil society.
I trace my involvement in the September Project to feelings experienced in the days following the terrorist attacks. When President Bush declared Sept. 14, 2001, a national Day of Prayer and Remembrance, he spoke of revenge before any mention of mourning: "We will use all the resources of the United States ... to pursue those responsible for this evil, until justice is done." At the time, the close proximity of national loss and national aggression dismayed me.
Since then, the rhetoric of war and the rhetoric of grief have saturated our public forums, becoming an emulsion that corrodes our ability to comprehend other points of view. The September Project gives me and other librarians an opportunity to provide havens for conversation and understanding differences of opinion.
Participants in the September Project, from the co-directors, David Silver and Sarah Washburn, to organizers, to those who attend events, recognize Sept. 11 as a time to reflect and to discuss democracy, citizenship and freedom. Only future generations will know the true significance of Sept. 11, but we now have the opportunity to influence the flow of history.
Will we poison the future with violent reactions to fear, relinquishing liberty for safety; or through dedication to civil society, will we release the elements of freedom and democracy? This September and October, libraries that participate in the September Project offer spaces for raising, and beginning to answer, that and many other questions. Learn more about the September Project activities at http://www.theseptemberproject.org.
Justin Wadland is a librarian at the University of Washington-Tacoma Library who has participated in the September Project for three years.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
what a way to start a day
from this morning's seattle pi: