Curating Conversations: Why the Library?

Written by: Kelley McHenry @ Seattle College

Did you ever consider that your library is the perfect forum for discussions on social issues? It seems to be just the right place at Seattle Central College. Through our hugely successful discussion series, Conversations on Social Issues (COSI), we promote the library, intellectual freedom, and our collections. We see this series as an extension of our charge to promote freedom of information and the open exchange of ideas. In the spirit of the idea that none of us agrees with everything in the library, we provide this opportunity for the community to learn from a wide range of viewpoints. All points of view are welcome and we openly encourage students and staff to freely express their opinions.

The success of this series has been amazing. Every Thursday at noon, between 20 and 120 participants (mostly students) show up to learn about and discuss some social issue. The series brings students, staff, and faculty into the library that might otherwise not come here and, because of the focus on the diverse interests, knowledge, and experience of the entire community, the series garners broad support from across campus and often faculty will bring an entire class.
For faculty, COSI, as we have come to call the series, has been a great way to share expertise, ideas, and passions that don’t fit into their course offerings. Staff have taken the opportunity to share their talents and expertise in a way that their jobs may not allow. For students, COSI provides a forum for leading discussions on topics they care about with a community beyond the classroom. The enthusiasm for this project has come from all levels of the college and that is what makes it so special and successful. Topics have ranged from the environment to social justice to politics and law.

How Did It Start?

The series got its start when Occupy Seattle was encamped on the college lawn in the fall of 2011. A bunch of faculty got together and decided to organize teach-ins to give students more context about the issues that had led to the Occupy movement. I was involved in these planning discussions, and in the process, formed many new relationships, as well as strengthened old ties with faculty who were charged up over the attention to social justice that Occupy brought to our campus. Because the teach-ins were so well-received, I tried running a regular series for that following winter quarter. The library received so much positive feedback that we have been offering the series ever since.

How Does It Work?

COSI is a collaborative effort. At the end of each quarter I email everyone on campus, soliciting topics and conversation leaders for the next quarter. This fall the email brought more responses than we could accommodate. Within two days of sending the message, the schedule for winter quarter was full and more requests were coming in. Once someone submits an idea we confirm an open date and give a title for the discussion. After the schedule is ready I post it to the entire college. Each week we promote the next event with a flyer like the one above. Student Leadership prints the flyers and hangs them around campus where students will see them. Our reference assistant, Annina Wyss-Lockner, helps set up the room just before the discussion and puts up signage around the library to show people where to go. The media specialist, Jason Anderson, makes it a regular part of his job to film the presentation and discussion and post it to YouTube. Another librarian, Kimberly Tate, maintains a LibGuide with related books, the video of the event, and an image of the flyer that was used.

What’s Coming Up?

It is exciting to see what the campus collectively produces each quarter. For winter quarter we have offerings from students, faculty, staff, and administrators.

JAN 15
Protecting yourself! A Conversation on Personal Safety and Security at Seattle Central College / Director of Public Safety, Elman McClain
JAN 22
Segregation in South Africa and Its Repercussions and Parallels / Seattle Central Student, Nat Steiner
JAN 29
(2 hours)
Political Prisoners in the United States: The Case of the Cuban Five / ESL Faculty, John Martinez (12:00-1:00)
Cuba Libre: Gender and Sexuality in Cuba / English Faculty, Phebe Jewel and ESL Faculty, Marjorie Richards (1:00-2:00)
Lost in the Fine Print: When Signing Up for a Cellphone Threatens Your Basic Rights / Service Learning Coordinator,
Patti Gorman
FEB 12
“Look Ma, I’m Using My Hands!” The Cultural Appropriation of A