Suburban library adds political scientist to help patrons through 2024 elections

A suburban library is taking an unusual approach to educating voters ahead of this year’s primary and general elections.

The Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire has brought in an expert to serve as a political scientist in residence for the election cycle. Alexandra Filindra, an associate professor of political science and psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago, will lead discussions with patrons, write articles for the library newsletter and recommend reading material concerning the election and important issues.

“The American election system is very complicated,” Filindra said. “People don’t know enough about how the sausage is made, so to speak, and that can create confusion and lead to misinformation.”

Illinois voters will find races for county officers, the General Assembly, Congress and the White House — as well as referendums and lesser contests — on ballots for the March 19 primary and the Nov. 5 general election.

The goal of the residency program is to give people information that will allow them to critically evaluate the political discourse “and create more positive feelings and good will about government at a time when cockroaches have greater approval than Congress,” Filindra said.

In addition to her live discussions and articles, Filindra will help the Vernon Area staff create an exhibit that explains the responsibilities of the various levels of government.

Professional residencies aren’t new for libraries, but they’re rare. Last summer, Wheeling’s Indian Trails Public Library hosted an artist in residence, and officials plan to do so again this summer.

Residencies allow a collaboration with an expert on a particular topic of interest that’s longer than a one-time presentation, said Roz Topolski, a community engagement program coordinator with Vernon Area.

Vernon Area developed the program to provide trustworthy election resources to patrons, said Ashley Johnson, a community engagement partnerships librarian.

“Providing a space for civic engagement is an important part of what public libraries do,” Johnson said.

Filindra — whose specialties include gun politics, immigration policy, race and ethnic politics and political psychology — said she wants to help people better understand how government works.

“Because of the complexity of the system, people don’t know who to go to if their traffic light is broken or if they have an immigration problem, or (for) something else,” Filindra explained.

Filindra’s initial public program, about psychology’s role in voter behavior, was held this past weekend. Another, focusing on how people make political decisions, is planned but hasn’t yet been scheduled.

The Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire has brought on a political scientist in residence to help patrons this election cycle. Daily Herald File Photo
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