“It should be the goal of libraries to have something in them that will offend everyone,” says Nancy Pearl, librarian and creator of the “If All Seattle Read the Same Book” project. She believes lib-raries serve everyone across the ideological spectrum and hopes the same will be true of the September Project, a series of civic conversations to be held on September 11 this year and, organizers hope, every year, at libraries across the country.
Founded by Sarah Washburn, a former employee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and David Silver, a University of Washington professor, the September Project is a non-partisan effort to bring people together for public dialogue to find common ground and understanding. Silver believes the shadow of September 11 brought public silence and personal isolation, perhaps exacerbated by factors such as the Patriot Act and a lack of encouragement of civic participation from both major parties' leaders. The country needs creative remedies to reverse the isolation, he believes, and the September Project could be one of them. This year's themes will be democracy, citizenship, and patriotism.
Silver and Washburn feel libraries are the perfect hosts for the day, because they are the only safe, public, equal opportunity, and free space distributed widely across the nation. Pearl, who is serving on the September Project's national board of advisors, agrees. “I think the library is the last ‘small-d' democratic institution in our nation,” she says. “It's absolutely vital we keep it alive.”
Participating libraries across the country will tailor events and programming to their communities while reflecting on the three themes. Libraries in Minnesota and Ohio plan to hold events on the topic of America's role in the world. A group of libraries in Santa Cruz, California, is collaborating with non-profit, cultural, and civic organizations to develop events around the questions: What is great about America? What needs fixing in America? And what are we going to do to fix it?
The September Project is still evolving. Plans are shaping to turn these local discussions into national and international dialogues. Events, such as performances and roundtables, may be web-streamed to all participating libraries. Building on Pearl's idea of getting everyone in a community to read the same book, Washburn and Silver suggest that everyone in the country read the Bill of Rights.
Washburn and Silver also see the September Project as an opportunity to make September 11 a day of massive voter registration. “Maybe this can be the legacy of September 11,” Silver said.
For more information on the September Project and how to initiate it at your library, see www.theseptemberproject.org. Several libraries are using YES! articles, discussion guides, and our book Making Peace: Healing a Violent World as part of the September Project. You can download YES! material at www.yesmagazine.org.