The Constitution and a Cuppa Joe

Iowa City brews some excellent coffee in several independently-owned coffee houses. I frequent them all and have a favorite at each. Some coffee shops brew by the cup; one has two lines: one for coffee and the other for gelato—a genius combination. Each assigns enticing names for their coffees and uses creative ways to designate which brew station will produce your cup of Joe. This is where my idea began for merging the "think drink" daily ritual with Constitution Day.

A little more than three years ago I was standing in the coffee queue admiring the catchy theme-of-the-week and artful images assigned for each brew station at the brew bar. I don't remember the theme, but I noticed that there were 10 brew stations. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, would fit perfectly. I asked the manager to consider the Bill of Rights as the brew bar theme for the week of September 17th. I would supply the text; they could supply the creativity. Maybe they could also spare a little counter space for a few pocket-sized Constitution booklets to give away. Yes, indeed, they agreed to do both.

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In the past, Pocket Constitutions had been available for library users to pick up near the entrance to the library. Representative Dave Loebsack's office had always generously supplied copies of the Constitution. Between 75 and 100 booklets would eventually disappear, but not with great speed. However, with events in the news (2009) and increasingly heated political discourse, a more active promotion of Constitution Day seemed to be required. I thought the coffeehouse-Constitution partnership would be a positive outreach effort between the University and community to encourage informed civic engagement.

I planned to keep this coffee shop give away a small endeavor since I wasn't sure how much interest would be generated, but it was worth a try. A to-do list quickly developed. 

  1. Ask another shop to consider participating by creating a Constitution-themed latte.

    Result: They enthusiastically created one sweet red, white, and blue latte.

  2. Speak with the UI Libraries’ Public Relations Director about posting a digital news story on the library's home page.

    Result: I drafted the article text which was promptly and thankfully jazzed-up by the PR Director. The library give-away was noted, but the coffeehouse give-away was the big highlight.

  3. Contact Representative Loebsack’s office for a larger than usual supply of Constitution booklets.

    Result: The District Representative was enthusiastic about the coffee shop project and supplied 200 booklets for the give-away, saying let’s include more coffee shops next year. Upon request,
    Representative Loebsack also wrote a letter to commemorate the anniversary of signing
    the Constitution, and it was posted with the library's digital news article.

When the designated date arrived, I delivered the Constitution booklets to the two coffee shops. We ran out of booklets on the first day, but the brew station Bill of Rights images remained, and the Constitution Latte was promoted for the full week. I counted this as success.

The next year, in 2010, the University of Iowa Provost planned to sponsor a reading of the Constitution by Army Cadets. The University of Iowa Marketing + Design team designed a cool digital poster promoting Constitution Day and announcing the reading. The PR network was in play and the Libraries’ PR Director said, “Hey, the Libraries’ did a coffeehouse Constitution give-away last year and are doing it again. Let me connect you with the Government Information Librarian.”

Result: the coffeehouse give-away was included (four shops/five locations) in the digital poster promotion along with a link to a Constitution research guide for UI Libraries resources. Cool! The 2010 digital poster can be viewed on the University of Iowa’s Web site; the 2011 poster will use the same design.

New To-Do List:

  1. Create spiffy containers for the booklets, so they draw attention while reducing counter space.

    Result: I scoured Kitchen Departments at a local hardware stores for
    appropriate holders and sewing shops for ribbon.

  2. Request a larger number of Constitution booklets from Representative Loebsack’s office.

    Result: I received more than 400 booklets, and we ran out mid-week. A new shipment was received in time for the Reading and September 17th. I dashed around to each coffeehouse to restock.

2011 will mark the third year for the University of Iowa Libraries/coffeehouse community/Provost/Congressman Loebsack partnership. The planning has gotten easier now that contacts, design, and the core text of news articles have been established. We’re ready to go this year with one more location for a coffeehouse, six in all. With this project, library resources have been promoted though the Provost’s initiative, civic engagement has been enhanced; University and local business teamwork to promote community involvement has been successful; and a positive partnership with our Congressman’s office has become firmly established. It has also been fun.