The Johnson County Library, KS, hosted its first Debate Watch Party in 2012, but for the 2016 election the Library’s Civic Engagement Committee wanted to make sure the event was really memorable. On September 26, 2016, we watched the debate with 135 excited and engaged library patrons over pizza and popcorn. In order to make the event as robust as possible we created a more social feel: we had tables with table cloths set up cafe style to encourage interactions between patrons who might have differing views and interests. We provided live fact checking, debate bingo, and partnered with the League of Women Voters to help with on-site voter registration and information about the voting process.
The 2016 presidential primary activity and election may provide libraries with an unmatched opportunity to show their stuff. As candidates officially jump into the race, voters are already inundated by an unprecedented volume of information and perspectives—not to mention the onslaught of misinformation and distractions. As the pace heats up, potential voters will need help engaging in the process, and voters will need more help than ever sorting out the facts on the real issues and learning what they need to make their own decisions.
The University of Washington’s Living Voters Guide, presented in partnership with Seattle’s CityClub, is adding fact-checking by Seattle Public Library staff in its third year.