Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Democracy is coming to the U.S.A."

As the election season winds down, many of us are thinking about politics and the electoral process. As in so many things, public libraries have a role in helping people stay informed. This function may never be as popular as John Grisham novels, or the latest popular DVD, but it's one of the most important things we do.

As James Madison said:

A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

Most of this happens indirectly: people read what they want, and it's our business to have books and periodicals that cover all sides of the issues. But here's a bit of what we're doing directly this year:

  • Registering voters: library staff is deputized to do voter registrations, and we've hosted several visits from League of Women Voters registration teams
  • An updated set of Quickref page of useful Internet links to election and political information -- our Reference staff has found some of the good stuff out there
  • A bibliography on the Electoral College
  • Library programs and community meetings, including
    • Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson (pictured), discussing "Impartial Judiciary" and concerns about judicial election campaigns [co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters & the library]
    • A candidate forum for Assembly candidates [co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans]
    • A debate between Wisconsin 57th Assembly district candidates [co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters & the library]
    • A presentation and podcast on the Electoral College by Lawrence University Professor Arnold Shober [sponsored by the library]
As Chief Justice Abrahamson noted in her presentation, it's up to us as voters to pay attention and check facts. That's one of the things impartial libraries are good for. We also have good stories, and Justice Abrahamson recommends John Grisham's The Appeal as a good illustration of the problems when politics intrude too far into judicial elections.

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