October 2007

  • More than just agency or empowerment, citizenship is also about social standing. Citizens of a democracyy are entitled to respect unless they forfeit it by their own unacceptable actions.
  • Nationality
  • Active participation or “good” citizenship
  • Republican citizenship

Sklar, Judith N., American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 3.


The American public no longer trusts its leaders to do what is right. People do not see their values reflected in Washington and have lost faith in the institutions that are supposed to represent them.

According to a July 2007 CBS News/NYT Poll, the percentage of Americans who think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” or “most of the time” has declined steadily from its peak after September 11th from 55% in 2001 to 24% in 2007. Similarly, a CNN/USA Today/Gallop Poll in January 2006 found that 32% of people trusted government to do the right thing “just about always” or “most of the time,” compared to 60% in October 2001.

In a March 2007 poll by The Pew Charitable Trusts, only 34% of Americans said that they believe government “cares about what people like me think.”

(Guidance for Writing Op-Eds, October 11, 2007, e-mail message to Taylor Willingham from Joe Goldman, AmericaSpeaks, October 11, 2007)

Almost half of the American questioned in the survey gave a grade of “A” to their community for maintaining well-run libraries, with another 29 percent giving them a “B”. Seventy-six percent say their public libraries are doing an excellent or good job, but only 43 percent think their local community government as a whole is doing an excellent or good job.

(Public Agenda. Long Overdue: A Fresh Look at Public and Leadership Attitudes about Libraries in the 21st Century. New York, NY: Americans for Libraries Council, 2006, 20.)

Libraries enjoy greater public trust than government and other public institutions and could be a leader in conducting community engagement activities that would restore the public’s faith in our democratic institutions.

Glen Holt, ed of Public Library Quarterly asked me to submit an article based on a book chapter I wrote (Willingham, Taylor. “Literacy Internships: Take a Plunge into the Deep End.” Public Library Internships: Advice from the Field. Ed. Cynthia Mediavilla. Sage Publications, 2006. Chapter 14).  He found me when I posted part of the chapter that was NOT published on a discussion list. (Beats me which one!) I’ve managed to parlay that request into a proposal for three articles. (Just like me to make more work for myself, but I think this is a fabulous opportunity.)  I’m going to use this space to capture bits of ideas as they come up. I probably should be posting this to my professional blog at Austin-Pacific, but that is on Blogger which is not nearly as user-friendly or familiar to me as this format. Perhaps I’ll transfer these postings once I finish the article so that I can start a conversation with the readers. In the meantime, here’s what I proposed to Glen:

I’d like to take a slightly different angle and push more for library leadership for public engagement, particularly in light of the presidential campaign and the opportunity to engage their communities in the upcoming Citizen’s National Caucus in December. A presidential candidate is calling for national dialogues involving millions of citizens as a government reform platform in a speech this weekend. [NOTE: The candidate is John Edwards and the announcement was made earlier today on C-Span and is part of his One Democracy initiative] There will be dozens of op-ed pieces in major newspapers by non-partisan members of the dialogue and deliberation community early next week – not to support the candidate, but to call on ALL candidates to develop citizen participation platforms – and I would like to call on libraries to take a leadership role.

I see this as possibly the first of three installments. The second would be an expanded version of the role that literacy programs have played in building civic capital. The third would be some key findings from my current fellowship on Civic Entrepreneurship and perhaps co-authored with some researchers England I met last who are doing research on entrepreneurship in the public sector. We are like-minded souls who want to work together and publish together.

So I’m wading through articles I’ve written and collected. I will periodically post thoughts here or on on the Texas Forums blog if they seem appropriate for a wider audience.

When I was in St. Paul, MN September 9-11, I had a conversation with Remi Douah, the Academic Progress Coordinator for the University of MN Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence and Anne Carroll, St. Paul School Board Member and Partner in Caroll, Franck & Associates. Remi said something that was so beautiful I had to write it down and want to save here:

Power is the ability to be so fulfilled and blessed by the spirit that you’re not afraid to give it away or to make room of others to share.

Which makes me wonder, “What does power look like in a democratic principled society?”