Democracy. Who cares?

Generally speaking, digital media create a more integrated communication environment than was previously the case. Society’s learning is therefore more often perceived as an ‘ecology’, that is to say an eco-system with various contributors.

One effect can be that information and culture providers change their self-understanding from ‘just’ making materials available to a more deliberate intention of optimising social processes.

Hjørring Public Libraries have taken this step with their project Democrary – who cares? This cultural course programme for young people combines the teaching of democracy and rhetoric at the schools with challenging events and user-generated activities in city and library environments.

Create holistic mindset 

The young and democracy is a focus area under the Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, but how can public libraries and educational institutions in practice engage on involving young people in democratic processes? Educating oneself to democracy requires both historical and critical knowledge and personal dedication.

Through committed cooperation with local educational institutions, Hjørring Libraries are therefore dedicated to transcending the institutional environments where young people move on a daily basis. The idea is to create a common holistic mindset, where different local institutions contribute to providing a common culture at a higher level than would be possible for each individual institution.

The aim is, through activities that transgress professional groups and types of knowledge, e.g. critical knowledge and technical and aesthetic performance, to address the young student as a ‘whole’ human being.

The project culminates in the democracy celebration The power of the word, where the students cooperate with professional artists and stand-up comics to create an aesthetically and rhetorically convincing statement in present-day terminology. The students made their own music videos, contributing with suggestions for the perception of democracy.

“Embedded librarianship”

In research literature, one often comes across the term “embedded librarianship”, i.e. a so-called integrated or “embedded” communication. It may be a question of information and culture mediators integrating their work more directly in social processes like democracy, research, education or job functions. In this way, it becomes possible to move the processes up to a higher taxonomic or empirical level.

Hjørring libraries work deliberately towards creating a more performative information and culture mediation. By integrating itself directly in the debate on democracy, the project reinforces the institution’s rhetorical sender-perspective. At the same time it is actively offering a number of expressive and aesthetic forms of knowledge, which have traditionally been associated with the concept of cultural mediation (e.g. poetry slam and stand-up).

Thinking of mediation in terms of contributing to an ‘ecology’ transgresses last, but not least, some of the contradistinctions we know from actual discussions about today’s pedagogical and cultural challenges – for example divisions between public library and school, amateur and professional, the receptive and the expressive, the critical and the performative.

Democracy – who cares will from now on be a regular element at the commencement of study for the young in the municipality of Hjørring.

Associate professor Royal School of Library and Information Science University of Copenhagen
Associate professor Royal School of Library and Information Science University of Copenhagen