When people consider the library as the center of the community, they often think of the public library. But through my classes this semester, we are exploring ways that the academic library is a central part of a college or university community as well.
For example, SMU Libraries has been leading voter education and civic engagement on campus:
- Building a research guide on voting in the election this fall (the guide is non-partisan and focuses on how to register to vote and learn about the candidates and issues on the ballot).
- Setting up tables across campus to register students to vote in person.
- Partnering with other groups on campus to celebrate the Constitution and discuss the campaign process throughout the fall.
I wanted to be a part of our voter education push this fall, and I got my chance on Constitution Day, September 17. As an educational organization that receives Federal funding, SMU celebrates Constitution Day every year. In partnership with the SMU Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, SMU Libraries passes out pocket Constitutions and encourages discussion of the Constitution.
Obviously, any event held during a pandemic creates a series of challenges. Decisions were made to hold the event on the lawn across from the library in order to celebrate outside. Two tables were set up to separate the two components of the event and to keep our distance. One featured a quiz that students could take about the Constitution. If they completed the quiz on their phones or laptops (via a QR code on the table), they could be signed up for a raffle for a year of free parking on campus. The other table had information about registering to vote: Links to confirm current registration, printed out forms to file new voter registration, and people that could counsel how to request absentee ballots for various states.
While traffic was much slower than usual due to lower numbers of students on campus (most students are only on campus every other day due to COVID restrictions), we felt the event was a success. Not only did we have 35 students that qualified for the raffle after taking our Constitution quiz, but we also noted that 30 students had approached the voter registration table with questions about how to register or confirm registration, how to vote via absentee ballot, and how to vote in person near or on campus. Combined with several other events in the preceding and following weeks, several librarians and library staffers from SMU Libraries registered or confirmed registration for hundreds of students.