By Allison Campbell-Jensen
Let’s begin with a pop quiz.
- How many U.S. Presidents have been impeached and convicted?
Find the answer in this A Matter of Facts blog post.
- How many languages are offered for the U.S. Census forms online?
Find the answer in this research guide about the Census.
Facts are fun — and they’re just a start. Deepening people’s understanding so they can be better citizens is a goal of the Libraries Civic Engagement Committee, which produces the A Matter of Facts blog and the Civic Engagement & Voting guide. The committee is currently chaired by Government Publications and Data Librarian Alicia Kubas, who edits, often writes for, and collaborates on the blog posts.
With an educational approach, A Matter of Facts has tackled issues open for debate. Librarians have provided reputable sources, for example, about de-funding the police, immigration, and government shutdowns. Kubas says: “We’re there to distill information … but also do our best not to be partisan.”
For years, the Libraries have been encouraging voter registration by putting paper forms near service desks. The committee formed, Kubas says, because they saw a need for more information. For students, staff, faculty, and members of the public, she says, “it’s important that they understand not just how to vote but also what elections mean, who your candidates are, and how our government works.”
Beginning with a ballot
“We’re there to distill information … but also do our best not to be partisan.”
Getting voting right is essential, however. Prior to the recent presidential election, Kubas and Del Reed wrote A Matter of Facts about voting by mail. They received a request from a local grassroots organization to translate the guide into Spanish, which Kubas said they had never thought of before. It was translated by their colleague Rafael E. Tarragó, Librarian for History, Iberian, Ibero-American & Chicano Studies.
Besides the presidential election, their other focus going into 2020 was the U.S. Census.
“We started to plan our outreach and engagement in summer 2019, with programs and tabling events in the Libraries. Then COVID happened,” she says. “We had to completely scrap all our plans.”
Instead, they developed an online Census guide, which included clarifying potentially confusing questions about where students, who often have unusual living arrangements, should be counted.
“With the big general election over, we want to turn to some of the local city and county civic engagement opportunities,” Kubas says. For example, when the Minneapolis City Council is examining its budget, how can people learn more about what they are doing, find out where their minutes are kept, and when the meetings take place? The committee also will seek opportunities to engage people in local elections.
They’ll look for ways to share the Census data as it becomes available. And they are considering how to cover COVID.
“We see it as a civic duty to abide by public health guidelines,” Kubas says. They may collaborate with health sciences librarians to write A Matter of Facts blog post about COVID and the vaccine.
They also want to expand partnerships formed with the U’s Government Relations, the Minnesota Student Association, and other organizations during their work on the general election and the Census. The committee is beginning conversations with CLA’s Civic Readiness Initiative and is interested in partnering with other groups on and off campus.
It all feeds into the committee’s goal to leverage Libraries’ expertise to provide accurate and timely information in the context of civic — perhaps even civil — discussion.