As seen in Chapter 2 of Better Together (2003), Chicago was able to create a sense of community in its public libraries by reimagining the library as a community center, rather than as the traditional library that focused primarily on providing quiet spaces filled with books. The new libraries in Chicago, which were made possible due to funding allowances provided by the city, redesigned libraries so that they included meeting areas and internet access as well as books. This meant going to the library would have more to offer than simply doing research. Community meetings were held, volunteer meet ups would occur among various community groups, and the library also served as an after-school place for children.

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The strategies used by the Chicago library system was to modernize and reinvent the library and how it was perceived by Chicago residents. By the 1990s, internet technology had begun to make it possible to replace many library functions, such as doing research, with home-based computers. Rather than fight this trend, the Chicago system sought ways to expand the library’s function in the community. By encouraging meetings and offering internet access, people once again found value in going to the library. Instead of staying at home, going to the library offered the chance to interact with other people. For some, this meant going to book clubs; for others, it was to perform volunteer services; and for others, this meant community meetings. The library served as the perfect meeting place. Although some older residents were not happy with the additional noise being created, younger people began to see the library as a valuable community resource, rather than as a type of place that was becoming obsolete due to the internet.

The strategies were effective because the Chicago library system was able to thrive during a time when most libraries were closing. They were also effective because there was a need in Chicago for these types of community centers. Libraries emphasized safety, and they were located in areas where safe places were lacking. By providing safe spaces, residents of the community had additional reason to visit the library, particularly when their own neighborhoods might have been dangerous. This method might not work in a suburban setting, but because they were located in many urban areas, they were seen as valuable assets for any community.

Another type of public space that would be considered a community asset would be the March on Washington during the Civil Rights era, which occurred at the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Public monuments and public parks also serve as valuable gathering places where content is shared. This event involved several speeches, including one by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the goal of educating the public on why civil rights were necessary. The information transfer from experts to citizens highlights how participants of the march were able to share content. In this instance, the public space that would have the most visibility was the one chosen. The reason this choice of public space was effective was because of its location in the United States Capitol, where the most political influence resides. This would have been a major even within the city, and all of the politicians involved in making policy would have been aware of the event. Although this was a national event, the community in Washington, D.C. would have been the most impacted, which makes it a community event within the political capitol. Even at this size, we can see how the community engagement that occurred involved participants sharing content according to the community engagement description (2018).  

  • Community Engagement. (2018). Principles of Community Engagement Handout.
  • Putnam, R. D., Feldstein, L., & Cohen, D. J. (2003). Better together: Restoring the American community. Simon and Schuster.