WILMINGTON — Passing by the Wilmington Memorial Library before election day on Nov. 3, it was impossible to miss the giant signs that started with “freedom for” or “freedom from” placed on the lawn. These were part of an initiative led by Assistant Teen Services Librarian Brittany Tuttle aimed at engaging teens in civic discourse even though they couldn’t vote in the presidential election.
The For Freedoms program at the library was created in collaboration between Waltham Public Library and the artist-led organization of the same name. Tuttle learned about it when she heard Waltham Librarian Luke Kirkland and some Waltham teens talk about their “For Freedoms” program at last year’s School Library Journal’s Leadership Basecamp Conference.
This initiative invited Wilmington teens, and teens from several other participating towns, to finish these prompts about their political interests in light of the election: freedom for, freedom from, freedom to, and freedom of.
Tuttle explained that the prompts were based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “four freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
While she would’ve liked to have participants write their own signs, a Google form was used for teens to insert their political opinions for the sake of public safety. Tuttle filled in the signs according to the prompt and answers submitted. Submissions opened in the middle of October.
She saw this as an opportunity for Wilmington teens to have a voice in the election while they’re ineligible to vote.
“I also wanted to use it as a springboard to get them registered to vote,” she said.
The library held voter registration and preregistration events along with a banner put up on their website promoting voting resources and information in accordance with their yearly action plan.
Tuttle took several avenues to encourage high school aged teens to participate. Besides making a video about the initiative, she helped to create a voting information bookmark and utilized the library’s social media accounts to share the Google form link.
“I reached out to high school teachers who I knew would promote it in their classrooms,” she shared.
She also spread the word in person with students and with the Board of Selectmen and emailed all 75 of the library’s teen volunteers.
With 34 total sign submissions, she considered “For Freedoms” a huge success.
“The community seems to find it valuable,” Tuttle continued. “Teens appreciated being asked and having a voice.”
Some examples of signs that she filled in called for freedom from racism and terrorism, freedom to be their true selves and learn from their mistakes, and freedom of expression and peaceful protest. All of the signs were posted on the Wilmington Library’s Twitter page, although not all of the submissions were made into signs in time for election day.
Should the Wilmington Library take part again next year, she said she would extend the program to allow middle school students to participate. Libraries in Arlington, Brookline, Burlington, Peabody, Randolph, Springfield, Waltham, and Wayland also had For Freedoms signs up on their lawns before election day.