Enabling Local Democracy at the Red Deer Public Library

I heard about this innovative library program during a presentation by Red Deer Public Library's Director at CLA.  For the last two municipal elections, that city's library has created information pages for all municipal candidates from the mayor to council to both school boards.  The candidates provided the information and the library simply posted it on their behalf in a non-partisan fashion.  In 2004, these pages were pretty straight-forward HTML (the generic “brochure on the web”-type pages) but in the 2007 election, they created blogs for every candidate (with comments enabled!), had a dedicated domain (www.electionforum.ca), provided links to local media outlets, posted video clips and more.

Here's an explanation from the staff member who was the project coordinator:

The main focus of our website will be to provide an interactive
platform for candidates to present their views and comment on election
related issues. Our site will allow them to post their comments in
their own words. They will be able to update their blog as the election
process continues. Interested citizens will be able to post questions
and concerns to which the candidates can respond. We hope to create a
busy conversation site and give everyone a chance to state an opinion
or ask a question. Our website is intended to promote a healthy
dialogue, increasing communication and understanding between candidates
and voters.Via the Election Forum 2007 website, we will strive to
provide information the citizens of Red Deer will need, enabling them
to make informed decisions on Election Day.”

The RDPL Director said that the general feeling was that this site definitely had an impact on the final result as voters were much more informed than they might have otherwise been if they didn't have this central repository for information.  (I think their was also some sort of a flame-out by a candidate or a supporter on one of the blog's comment sections – I can't remember the exact details though.)

Personally, I believe this is a great role for the library to play as we not only have a long history in facilitating democracy (some have called libraries the “embodiment of democracy in society”) but also because we are perhaps the last completely neutral entity within society.  (This used to be the media's role but I'm pretty sure that's not the case anymore.) 

Now, with Regina's municipal elections coming up in October, I just wish I knew someone at RPL I could suggest this idea to!

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