Choose Civility History and Highlights


Choose Civility in Howard County was initially inspired by the book, Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct, by Johns Hopkins University Professor Dr. P.M. Forni.  It began as a grassroots effort with an appearance by Dr. Forni at Howard County Library System’s (HCLS) Professional Development Day in 2006.  The central theme of Forni’s book resonated with HCLS leadership, staff, and other community leaders.  As a result, Howard County Library System, in partnership with Howard Community College and Leadership Howard County, invited Dr. Forni to speak on the principles of his book at a kickoff event for the initiative in February 2007.

Interest in Choose Civility grew exponentially.  For the community, a Choose Civility initiative would serve as a reminder of the importance of civility in a world becoming less civil and would promote positive and respectful behavior.  Nearly 50 government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and school and education systems quickly became partners to encourage others to choose civility in their personal and work lives.  In the spring of 2008, the first Choose Civility Symposium attracted nearly 350 community leaders and individuals.  Thanks to the generosity of major sponsors – the grassroots initiative has distributed more than 70,000 Choose Civility car magnets and window decals; distributed 2,000 copies of Dr. Forni’s book through HCLS, school system, and community college; created numerous events and discussions; and sparked interest for similar initiatives in communities around the country.

As the initiative evolved, Howard County Library System assumed the leadership role.  Choose Civility falls squarely within HCLS’ educational mission to deliver equal opportunity in education to everyone in Howard County, including its Partners.  Howard County Library System’s curriculum comprises three pillars:

  1. Self-directed Education: Through its collection of one million items available in print and online, customers can borrow civility-related books from HCLS.
  2. Research Assistance & Instruction for individuals and groups: HCLS instructors offer personalized research assistance and teach or facilitate civility-related classes.
  3. Instructive and Enlightening Experiences:  Participants enjoy the cultural and community center concepts; events, such as the Choose Civility Symposium; and the partnership itself.


  • February 2007 – Howard County Library System, along with Leadership Howard County and Howard Community College, launched Choose Civility with a keynote address by Dr. Forni, followed by breakout sessions.
  • Due to the generosity of sponsors, purchased 2,000 of Dr. Forni’s book, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct (more than Harry Potter); distributed 700 to HCPSS and 200 to HCC.
  • Distributed more than 70,000 “Choose Civility, Howard County” car magnets and window decals.
  • 2008 – Held first Choose Civility Symposium, Civility Begins with Me, with keynote speaker Joe Ehrmann.
  • 2008 – Cradlerock school students came to HCLS’ East Columbia Branch to participate in Kindness Counts, a Choose Civility class. Canadian production company 90th Parallel Film & Television Productions Ltd. filmed the class for inclusion in the documentary, Rude: Where are our Manners?, which explored ideas of modern civility, or lack thereof. HCLS instructors, Donna LaBelle and Stacey Freedman, performed the book, Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller, then involved the students in a lively discussion on civility. The documentary won the Platinum Award at the 2009 WorldFest Houston Film Festival and the Gold World Medal, Human Relations at the 2009 New York TV Programming & Promotions Festival.
  • 2009 – Developed Strategic Plan.
  • 2011 – Washington County, Maryland becomes first Choose Civility Chapter.
  • 2012 – Freeborn County, Minnesota becomes second Choose Civility Chapter.
  • 2013 – Miami, Florida; Portland, Maine; and Southern Maryland become Choose Civility Chapters.
  • Annual Choose Civility Symposium features such topics as Ethics (2009), the Role of Civility in Democracy (2010), Building a Responsible, Bully-Free Community (2011), Would It Kill You to Be More Civil? (2012), OMG to AARP: Bridging the Multigenerational Divide (2013), The Ball’s In Your Court: Can Civility and Sports Coexist? (2014), and Would You Say That to My Face? And Other Questions of Online Civility (2015).
  • 2016 – Hosted first annual Coding for Community Hackathon for middle, high, and college students.
  • 2017 – Hosted first Human Library and The Longest Table.