Staff at Penn Yan Public Library take civic education seriously. They know that an understanding of our government and the structures that surround and uphold it is crucial to a healthy society, from the local level to the federal. To promote Yates County residents’ civic awareness and engagement, they have created a Civic Empowerment Station, a permanent and ever-changing display of library materials, public resources, and activities designed to inform and engage teens and adults.
“I’ve been very focused on civic engagement for a few years now, and on the ways that misconceptions and distrust of our systems have contributed to the increasing partisan divide in our country,” said Alex Andrasik, director of adult services. “I’ve offered a wide array of civics programs for adults during my tenure here, but their limitation is that they exist at one point in time, and can only serve the people who hear about them and are able to attend on those evenings. I wanted to establish something more permanent, based at the center of the library and the community, in hopes that the information it contains will reach more people over time.”
Andrasik rolled the station out in July with little fanfare, hoping to use the typically quiet summer month to introduce the concept and work out the kinks; it was themed on the immigration crisis that’s been making national headlines recently, and included a “faces in the news” activity inviting patrons to identify notable figures from current events. This month’s theme is citizen involvement, and features an array of resources to help anyone contact their elected officials, get involved in electoral campaigns, and to stand up for what they believe in. A “fill in the timeline” activity highlights key moments in history when people fought for or secured greater rights.
Submitting an answer sheet for the activity enters participants into a prize drawing; this month, winners will be able to choose between gift cards from the Flour Shop and Long’s Cards and Books. “I firmly believe that a little incentive to citizen engagement is never a bad thing,” Andrasik said.
Sometimes the monthly theme will lend itself to bonuses toward the prize drawing. In August, for example, Andrasik says that if a community member submits a letter to the editor of a local paper and can demonstrate that it was published, they’ll receive five free entries for the prize. (Andrasik stresses that letter acceptance remains at the editorial discretion of each newspaper, which are not official sponsors of this activity; in addition, past publications do not count toward this month’s activity — he hopes to inspire new efforts.)
In the future, Andrasik says, he plans to take the idea of the Citizen Empowerment Station on the road, transforming it into a mobile unit that he can display around the community and reach more people.
He’s also open to input and collaboration from groups throughout the community, including in the form of donations to help defray the costs of prizes.
“This is a big undertaking, and it’s a lot for an individual or even a single organization to take on alone,” Andrasik said. “I hope other agencies will see the value of maintaining an informed citizenry and reach out to lend a hand, offer some funding, or share ideas. But for now, I’m proud that the library’s taking the lead on it. There’s no more important work than supporting civic engagement.”
Those interested in adding to these efforts can reach Andrasik at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling the library at 315-536-6114.