Evelyn Eman Delmar

The Library as Citizen

Once upon a time, libraries were categorized collections of shelved books that one could borrow. Period. My how times have changed!

Over recent decades, libraries have added audio and video materials for loan to patrons. They’ve also added programs and services for all ages. Libraries have become full citizens of the communities they serve.

My local library, in fact, hosted its first naturalization ceremony on May 9, welcoming 72 new citizens from 29 countries to the United States. Staff from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Chicago Field Office administered the special service. The Northbrook Public Library ceremony was part of a 2013 partnership between the USCIS and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, whereby the two national organizations provide support to libraries and museums by disseminating public information and hosting events linked to immigration and citizenship.

“We want to reinforce the library as a welcoming place where community is formed,” said Northbrook Public Library Assistant Director Brodie Austin. “Libraries play a critical role in helping immigrants get the information that allows them to be active, engaged citizens.”

Two days before the naturalization ceremony, I attended the library’s inaugural “Engaged Citizen Unconference”. Registered participants completed surveys that library staff used to guide the Unconference’s breakout sessions, in which attendees’ discussions were facilitated by moderators. A thought-provoking keynote address preceded the breakout sessions. The concept is still finding its way but the first meeting brought people together in genuine civil dialogue to explore important issues that face all of us today.

Instead of musty halls of dead things, today’s libraries are vivid, living entities that deserve our support. If you haven’t been to your local library recently, go check it out. You might be surprised. And I bet you’ll be inspired.

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