Have you ever considered the power of your local library to spark community action?
There’s a public library in nearly every town and city across the country and, as technology has developed throughout the years, so has their role in local communities. POV is proud to partner with more than 300 libraries across the country to bring free screenings of hard-hitting social issue documentaries to their patrons. Many of these events include post-screening discussions and community activities, which begs the question: Do local libraries have the power to spark community action around today’s social issues?
Last year, Public Library Quarterly published Pratt Institute Associate Professor and former POV colleague Anthony Cocciolo’s study exploring the effectiveness of our community screenings in inspiring civic engagement. Cocciolo found that, sure enough, screening socially and culturally significant documentaries at public libraries, combined with post-screening discussions, can positively impact library patrons’ interest in becoming more civically engaged and foster a greater understanding of the issues raised by the films, making libraries a crucial hub for community engagement and action.
You can read the full study here but here is the abstract:
This project asks the question: In this initiative, documentaries are screened at public libraries throughout the United States and are followed by post-screening discussions. Coordinating librarians and audience attendees are surveyed to uncover the outcomes of each event’s civic engagement. Results indicate that the screening of socially and cultural significant documentaries at public libraries, combined with post-screening discussions, can positively impact library patrons’ interest in becoming more civically engaged and foster a greater understanding of the issues raised by the films.
And a summary of his findings:
The survey results indicate that a clear outcome of the film screening and discussion is greater understanding of the issues presented in the film. This is indicated by the responses by librarians (76.69% thought that the patrons had a greater understanding of the issues raised by the program) and the audience responses (81.27% agreed that they learned something new, and 59.22% moderately to strongly agreed that it deepened their understanding of the issues raised in the film). These findings indicate that for many patrons, developing a knowledge base around the issues raised in the program is a necessary first step before taking more intensive actions (e.g., signing a petition). Patrons need to take time to understand the issues and decide if the problems and possible solutions are ones that they are interested in working toward. It, of course, could take months, if not years, for the seeds of action raised by documentaries to culminate in concrete action. However, 66.54 percent, or nearly seven in ten participants, moderately to strongly agreed to take some kind of civic action (e.g., donate money to an organization working on the issues, join an organization working on the issues, etc.). This statistic leads to the conclusion that this initiative is positively impact in community members’ interest in being civically engaged.
Over the course of the study, 95 different films were screened at 425 screenings in public libraries in 36 states across the country.
About 77% of librarians agreed that the documentaries were good at fostering a greater understanding of the issues raised by the program, about 48% reported that the program increased the audience’s knowledge of film as a tool for social change, and about 21% said the screening and discussion inspired action among the audience members.
From the library patrons, about 81% agreed that they learned something new from the event, while about 59% agreed that the film deepened their understanding of the issues presented. Nearly 58% said they would discuss the issue with friends and family, while about 35% felt compelled to research the issue after the event.
The screenings also had positive outcomes for our public library partners as institutions and community spaces. About 62% of librarians said the events raised their organization’s profile in the community, while about 36% received new members and about 16% received local press about their event.
To learn more about this study, view the full version.
To borrow a film from POV, organizers register online, then our Community Engagement and Education team carefully reviews submitted requests and sends out companion learning materials – discussion guide, lesson plan, resource list – along with the film. We asks organizers to distribute audience evaluations at each participating library, and then we help publicize these events across the country through our website and social media presence. Register here.