Election Night and Public Libraries

November 3, 2008 at 2:28 pm 5 comments

Princeton Public Library will be hosting an Election Night at the Library event for the third time tomorrow night. The library has always been open regular hours on election days and starting in 2004 we decided that as the “community’s living room” we were the perfect venue to host a non-partisan, family friendly election return event. We serve food and drinks, have political commentary, watch the returns on multiple screens, and stay open late — generally until 11 pm, but the year of the hanging chads we stayed until after midnight. Leslie Burger hosts the event and Ingrid Reed of the Eagleton Institute provides the commentary. It really is a wonderful way to spend election night and a great way for the library to prove its value as a Third Place.

I started looking around to see if this idea had caught on at other libraries and I did find that Tigard Public Library in Oregon will be hosting an Election Watch 2008 event and that Towson branch of the Baltimore County Public Library will also be doing an Election 2008: Returns after Dark event. I am sure that there are other public libraries hosting events, if so please comment here and let us know what you are doing!

I was somewhat surprised, however, during my quest to find other library election parties to also discover that many, many public libraries close on election day. I was a little baffled by this, to be honest, especially since Princeton Public Library has always been open and it is the only public library that I have worked at since emigrating from Canada. At first I assumed that some libraries closed because they are polling places. That turns out to be partly true, but it seem that many more close because it is consider a legal holiday in many states, including New Jersey (thanks Wikipedia).

Should libraries remain open on election day and provide a non-partisan forum for their community to gather and participate in watching returns — or should they close in honor of the occasion? I obviously side with the former (even though I am not able to vote, yet) but I am sure there are other viewpoints and I would love to hear both sides.


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Giving Effective Presentations Speaking of Nominating


  • 1. Liz B  |  November 3, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Before being a librarian, I worked in places where we did not have the day off & I just voted early.

    But, I have spoken with people recently who have noted that (while yes they are voting), it isn't going to be easy with their schedules (child care, work, etc.)

    I looked up the census report on the 04 election. Twenty percent of those who didn't vote gave the reason of no time because of work & school.

    It also does encourage staffing. At each library I've worked where the staff has the day off, a few employees volunteer at the polls.

    And, to be honest — I like having the day off. In part because I don't have to hear political talk at work.

  • 2. Talking Books Librarian  |  November 3, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    I don’t really have a preference… but I do think it’s a fun idea for libraries to stay open for election night!

    Jaime/Talking Books Librarian

  • 3. Lisa Coats  |  November 4, 2008 at 9:33 am

    While I think it’s fabulous that Princeton PL is staying open for a ‘third place’ election night gathering, I do understand why some libraries close. Burlington County follows the county holiday schedule, as do many other county systems, I would imagine. As Liz suggests, it could make it easier for those employees to vote, volunteer, etc. and some libraries are polling locations. However, I certainly hope ‘political talk’ isn’t limited to Election Day and that folks can figure out ways to have these discussions without dissension. So, get out and vote!

  • 4. Janie L. Hermann  |  November 4, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for the interesting comments and viewpoints on this topic.

    I am “reporting” live from the library at 10:10 pm on November 4th and the community room is packed to standing room only — somewhere over 150 people. We have had some loud cheers, some groans, great commentary and excellent questions being answered. Oh, and lots and lots of food and coffee has been consumed. We suspect that we will be here until midnight, maybe later.

  • 5. Anonymous  |  November 6, 2008 at 11:12 am

    In Chicago, we are virtually all polling places for the election, and many are early voting sites. Sounds great, but logistics of persons to open building, security, inability to use our own rooms for our own programming, noise, demanding election persons (they used one side of my program room for voting, one for their personal lunchroom!), parking problems, neighborhood irritation with all of the above, you name it. We have always been open and I believe libraries should be open for voting, though we try to make a silk purse by marketing and promoting library services to persons who otherwise do not enter libraries and frankly see no purpose in books. Most are now pleasantly surprised at all the library offers (more than just BOOKS), free things, etc. I did chuckle at the program ideas, though, since we have no space. The election itself is the highlight at my library.

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