For a period of two and half years, starting in august 2020, Aarhus Public Libraries has dedicated resources to explore, try out and evaluate activities on their democratic potential.
Theoretically the initiative is based on a deliberative and participatory understanding of democracy – meaning that conversation, dialogue and debate among fellow citizens is presumed to hold great democratic value as such activities contribute to strengthen social cohesion, local communities and our democratic self-confidence i.e., the believe that your voice should is worth listening to and that you by democratic action and involvement can make a change.
On that basis we have formulated four challenges that the democracy initiative will contribute to answer:
- How do we engage those who never or rarely participate in democracy activities (e.g. talks, debates and public hearings)?
- How do we create democracy activities that inspire to commitment and active participation (in opposition to one-way speech and passive listening)?
- How can we integrate democratic elements in the everyday activities at the libraries (e.g., as part of literature readings and other activities levelled at the library users)?
- How can we create relevant and engaging touchpoints between the local library and ongoing local politics?
So far, the democracy initiative has explored, tried out and evaluated a range of activities. From democracy training for high school youths, conversation events on urban development and close engagement with a community of people without homes to reimagining our cultural and societal activities at the library. But we are far from done. In the months to come we will among other things explore and test how libraries and local media together can create room for local debate and how this can help strengthen local communities.
By Asmund Bertelsen, democracy worker and project manager
Featured image: Reimagining cultural and societal activities with a community of people without homes