Magazine article American Libraries

Urban Libraries Council Conference: Place and Possibility; Chicago PL Showcases Vibrant Neighborhoods

Magazine article American Libraries

Urban Libraries Council Conference: Place and Possibility; Chicago PL Showcases Vibrant Neighborhoods

Article excerpt

Little one, you have been buzzing in the books," begins one of Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems. When this year's Urban Library Council conference convened December 2-3 at the Chicago Public Library, the buzz was about neighborhoods, youth, and connections. Some 200 library administrators and trustees, mayors and county councilors, publishers and others gathered to consider how libraries could become, in the words of the conference title, "Partners for Successful Cities." CPL Commissioner Mary Dempsey referred to the place Sandburg called "City of the Big Shoulders" as "the city of neighborhoods," and speakers reflected on the host city and other communities as places where libraries contribute to vitality and growth.

Government officials discussed the roles of libraries in their locales. Mayor David Cicilline of Providence, Rhode Island, described "a very aggressive campaign to bring arts and culture to the neighborhoods" of his city, in part through after-school programming. Libraries were partners in this enterprise, he said, remarking that this effort represented one of the first times that the city's government units and organizations serving youth had met.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

County Executive James T. Smith of Baltimore County, Maryland, stressed communication and strategic collaboration to bring about healthy neighborhoods, citing the example of partnering with a community college to build a joint-use library facility. "Libraries are becoming community assets," Smith said. "They're not just books and DVDs. They're becoming centers of activity."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams described the need for "a respect and reverence for the public realm of which libraries are part." He said, "We've got to create a city of learning, and libraries are the way to do this." Mayor Martin J. Chavez of Albuquerque, New Mexico, remembered his boyhood visits to a library that had once been Ernie Pyle's home, saying that this neighborhood library meant "success was accessible to me, in my life."

Keynote speaker Felton Earls, of Harvard University's School of Public Health, advocated envisioning neighborhoods as "small democracies to produce healthy environments for ... children to grow up in."

"If you want to understand something about human development in urban environments, you have to come to Chicago," Earls said. He outlined his research, which shows a complex interaction between neighborhood environments and health, cautioning against stereotyping and easy generalizations. In Neighborhood Matters: Selected Findings from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, Earls and his research team sought to explain apparently unrelated illness and mortality rates, ultimately finding patterns related to the strength of neighborhoods. He noted that socioeconomic factors alone did not account for a "growing disparity" within the city, giving instances of poor yet cohesive neighborhoods and middle-class ones experiencing problems related to a lack of parental supervision of teens.

Healthy neighborhoods possess a quality Earls refers to as "collective efficacy," meaning that residents work together for their mutual well-being. "Libraries have to help us stabilize this fragile system of how people become active in their communities," he said. "But young people have to identify themselves as citizens."

Also arguing for the important role of public libraries in healthy urban economic development were Jim Carr, senior vice president of research for the Fannie Mae Foundation, speaking on "What Makes Neighborhoods Successful? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.