Connected Minds, Resilient Communities
Resilience, the ability to adapt and potentially thrive in the face of change and uncertainty, is increasingly recognized as an essential life skill. It is also a critical capacity for families, organizations, communities and landscapes. Drawing upon a diverse set assets, incuding information resources, is essential for success in a changing environment. As a Land Grant institution, Cornell can and does play a critical role in helping our on and off campus communities respond to crisis and change with knowledge resources and services.
For this knowledge to be useful, there must be a practical means for real world application and revision based on the unique (and changing) circumstances of place and time. There is growing awareness at Cornell and elsewhere that embracing diversity and collaborative, active engagement based on meaningful dialogue and exchange, is essential to achieving these goals and maintaining relevance in the work that we do, including sustainability and translational research initiatives.
As inclusive service focused organizations and shared community commons, libraries are ideally situated to nurture engagement and collaborative problem solving. Adam Davis, from the Project on Civic Reflection writes:
“A living democracy depends on people being able to talk across difference, to think together about their own and their communities’ commitments and experiences...Libraries are open to all; they contain… materials that can provide people with a common experience and vocabulary; and they often attract people who are thinking about their aspirations, about what they and their communities might become. Libraries, which are often seen as products of democracy, can also be seen as engines of democracy, as places where people go to engage with one another and to begin making a difference."
Liberty Hyde Bailey, founder of Cornell's College of Agriculture and early proponent of the Extension system, had a vision of suffusing higher education with a spirit of public work, integrating expert knowledge into a broader context of democratic community action. He saw a vital role for libraries in this process:
"I hope that...libraries may arise in every country community, not only that they may supply books but that they may help provide a meeting-place on semi-social lines... Local institutions of all kinds must have a powerful effect in evolving a good community sense. This is true in a superlative degree of the school, the church, the fair, and the rural library. These institutions will bring into the community the best thought of the world and use it in the development of the people in the locality." The Country-Life Movement in the United States, Macmillan, 1911
Pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher and writer Donella Meadows suggested another critical function of libraries. Best known as the lead author of the influential book The Limits to Growth, Meadows, who worked in the field of systems analysis, proposed a scale of twelve "places to intervene in a system". These are described as "places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything." Lever number 6, "the structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to information)", highlights the importance of feedback loops and accountability in supporting healthy systems. As information intermediaries, libraries can play a significant role in the health and resilience of communities.
Connected Minds, Resilient Communities Programming
Mann Library is working with on and off campus partners (including other libraries) in support of these goals as part of its ongoing Connected Minds, Resilient Communities programming, supporting insight and exchange amongst our on and off campus communities. There is a focus is capacity building at Cornell and the Land Grant system, as well as the communities we serve, helping them become healthy, sustainable, just and equitable on their own terms, while building on existing assets.
This series continues to explore interdisciplinary systems based perspectives and approaches suggesting novel solutions to some of our most challenging problems, including those related to environmental sustainability, social justice, and economic equity
In conjunction with Cornell's April 2012 Sustainability Month programming, this series explored some of the ways we can think, design and act more holistically, engaging across divisions and communities as co-creators of a better future. Work from campus and community based initiatives was highlighted. Systems based perspectives and approaches were used to suggest novel solutions to some of our most challenging problems, including those related to environmental sustainability, social justice, and economic equity. A major area of focus was networks, and their ability to connect and empower a broad range of stakeholders. Two events from this series were explicitly commended as 2012 "Signs of Sustainability".
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