This is the first in a series of interviews featuring civic engagement activities at libraries across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In this interview, you will hear from Robin Shtulman, Assistant Director at the Athol Public Library. The Athol Public Library has hosted many outstanding programs to increase civic education and engagement in the community. Read on to hear from Robin.
Please tell us about the civic engagement activities hosted by the Athol Public Library.
Robin Shtulman: We hosted an evening entitled “Understanding Your Town Government.”
Our town manager, town counsel, town clerk, selectboard chair, and finance board chair each gave brief presentations outlining what their jobs entail and what their day-to-day work is like. Then, they opened the floor for questions. Our local cable access station was here to videotape.
How did your community respond to these events?
Robin: We had a great turnout. People asked good questions and seemed fully engaged throughout. Attendees really appreciated the opportunity to get a better understanding of these processes.
Did the library’s relationship with municipal leadership benefit as a result of events?
Robin: Yes. Each presenter was pleased to be asked. (Initially, we had only approached the town clerk and town manager. It was a wonderful bonus that others wanted to participate, as well.)
They all care deeply about the work they do and appreciated the opportunity to share with the public. Any time departments can work together on a project of value is a win for the whole community.
What advice would you give to a library interested to host similar civic engagement events?
Find out what the members of your community would like to know or do. Ask your town government co-workers what they wish residents knew. It’s a great opportunity!
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
We recently held two other activities that support civic engagement. One was a community-wide Club Fair, in which representatives of local clubs and volunteer organizations were invited to have table space (and encourage new members to join) in a festive atmosphere. This event drew a large crowd and built community spirit. Additionally, our teen advisory group had a private tour of town hall during which they met the staff in each town office and learned about what they do. It was a great, informative introduction to the nuts and bolts of the business of running a town.
Interview with Robin Shtulman, Assistant Director, Athol Public Library
Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, Consultant, Massachusetts Library System