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Harry Boyte: We need to reinvent citizenship for the 21st century

Posted on Friday, April 19th, 2013

Yesterday afternoon, Harry C. Boyte, civic engagement expert and Senior Fellow at University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, spoke at Wright State University.  He is well-known for promoting public work and citizen professionalism, among other related topics.  His message was loud and clear: each individual has the ability to and SHOULD express their citizenship through their everyday WORK.  In other words, this citizenship should not just be practiced "on the side" through volunteering for a cause for a couple of hours.  He stressed that we live in a culture of detachment, where businesses, higher education institutions, and individuals, just to name a few, have forgotten their roles as citizens in their communities.  If we want to solve this problem, each and every one of us has to think of ourselves as citizens on a daily basis and in our professional work. Boyte recommended that we learn more about the Citizen Professional Center at University of Minnesota as a example of how higher education can play a role in this movement to renew citizenship.  The Citizen Professional Idea encourages professionals to support the rebuilding of civic life in addition to their roles providing their expertise and/or services to individuals. A few other takeaways:

  • Each community has tremendous untapped talent.  Every citizen must participate to make our democracy more healthy and vibrant and to revitalize citizenship.
  • Educators need to teach their students to become powerful agents of change.
  • Although Boyte didn't address service-learning specifically, of course this pedagogy helps students and faculty be engaged in citizenship every day.

As librarians, of course, our own daily public work supports and demonstrates citizenship.  How can we play a role to help teach our students and/or patrons to be active, engaged citizens?  Can we assist faculty in creating assignments?  Can we promote and/or market our collections and materials to be used in support of citizenship?  Could we offer programs (guest speakers, etc.) that teach and remind our users to be citizens?  What else could or should we do?