Anyone can speak up for your libraries—your voice counts! People who are passionate about providing access to information, literature, and lifelong learning have always been at the heart of the American library movement. This is true now more than ever, and citizens must use their voices to ensure our library legacy remains viable and fully funded. Library advocacy doesn’t have to be complex; it can be as simple as telling others—at the grocery store, student union, bank, post office, or parties—why you value your library.
Set Goals (Download the PDF).
Determine what you want to accomplish. Do you want to pass a referendum? Increase the library budget? Pass a new law on the state or local level? Once you’ve identified your goals, you’re ready to organize.
Get Organized (Download the PDF).
Define your goals and objectives, assess the situation, identify critical tasks, develop a communication and work plan, and evaluate results.
Deliver your message (Download the PDF).
Set a communication plan with clearly defined key messages.
Target your audience (Download the PDF).
Who can help you achieve what your goals? Brainstorm potential audiences. For example, if your library has strong support among senior citizens, they may be your target audience for a ballot initiative on funding.
Ideas for Established Advocacy Groups
Plan a library event (Download the PDF).
Create an event that will get your Friends, trustees or other volunteers involved, and allow you to showcase your library. Host the event at the library a local mall, county fair, park, or campus and invite the media to attend.
Speak out (Download the PDF)!
For any advocacy campaign to work, you need spokespeople who are skilled at delivering the library message to others. Statistics can be impressive, but stories bring the library message to life, so tell stories about how the library has made a difference in your life. Remember to personalize your remarks, show your enthusiasm, and use visual aids when appropriate.
Create and distribute handouts (Download the PDF).
Create handouts that include information services and needs. These can include the library’s hours and services, a list of things the library needs, or any other pertinent library information. Post these documents on your library’s bulletin board. ALA provides a wealth of materials to help you get started through @ your library,® the Campaign for America’s Libraries.
Lobby (Download the PDF).
Attend state library legislative days—and the ALA National Library Legislative Day. Bring Friends, trustees and other supporters. To learn about federal issues, visit www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/federallegislation. Use Engage to contact your legislator. To learn about state issues, visit the website of your state library association.
Get press (Download the PDF).
Speak publicly about the specific value in your library. Are you good at public speaking? Call your local radio talk show or TV news. Like to write? Write an op-ed piece for your local paper, or ask students/faculty to write editorials for the campus paper. Be sure you’ve developed key messages and anticipated tough questions with solid responses ahead of time. To build your skills visit: Advocacy University.
Network and Strategize
Identify communication strategies (Download the PDF).
There are three primary types of communication strategies: Outreach to groups, personal contact, and the media. Think about how to reach your target audience and remember that the most effective is one-on-one communication; i.e., a visit to a legislator is more likely to be remembered than a letter and a personal letter carries more weight than a direct mail brochure.
Determine your communication methods (Download the PDF).
Options are: news releases or media advisories, non-library publications, op-eds and letters-to-the-editor, partnerships and coalitions, publications, public service announcements, radio and TV talk shows, speaking engagements, special events and promotions, a telephone tree, Web and internet outreach (including Facebook, blogs, wikis, and podcasts).
Deal effectively with the media (Download the PDF).
It’s important that libraries have a media policy. Spokespeople should know or have copies of the library’s key message on various topics and be ready to answer difficult questions with sound bites that reporters need for their stories.
Deal with bad news in a positive way (Download the PDF).
For instance: A ballot issue fails; a parent goes straight to the media after her son views “pornography” at the library; or neighborhood residents protest a branch closing. Focus on the solution, apologize if appropriate, and prepare one-page message sheets that include key messages, and talking points.
Get to know your representatives (Download the PDF).
You’ve elected them; but how can you get them to help your cause? Get to know them—and their staff—first. Visit your representatives’ websites to learn their issues and priorities. Invite them to your libraries and let them see how valuable your library is to the community. Ask them to support libraries, and library-friendly policies and give them specific ways to get involved.
Talk, talk, talk (Download the PDF)!
Look around you. There are people everywhere who could use their library and don’t—because they don’t understand the valuable resources waiting for them there. At the grocery store, student union, bank, post office, dorms, or on a walk with your dog, talk to people and tell them why you value the library.
Stay up to date on state and national activity. Contact the ALA Office for Library Advocacy and visit Advocacy University to view the latest resources, publications, and information on library advocacy, as well as sign up for advocacy discussion lists. Contact your state association for information on important issues affecting your state.
Build your network (Download the PDF).
You’re powerful agent for change on your own, but involving more people makes your message even stronger. Developing a network of library advocates in your community is a great way to add voices to the chorus of support. Keep track of their contact information and availability. Start a phone tree or email list so when an issue arises, you can get the word out.
Other Ways for Advocates to Get Involved
The following are additional tips for being an Advocate for Your Library:
- After you’ve gotten to know key officials, stay in touch even when you aren’t asking for something.
- Attend hearings on library-related matters. Ask questions and voice your opinions.
- Be a walking, talking billboard for libraries. Wear t-shirts and other pro-library accessories.
- Be on the alert for good library user-stories and forward to the appropriate person.
- Create a database with names of advocates, their contact information, names of their elected representatives and other pertinent information. Keep it current. Send it, along with the annual report, funding and legislative updates, and other concerns, to library advocates along with the library newsletter.
- Maintain your advocacy network. Invite library users and others to testify at budget hearings, participate in media interviews, and visit legislators.
- Work in collaboration with other organizations or departments. The library has a lot to offer potential partners as a visible, respected place with high traffic. For other tips on building your network, read “Building Your Network and Cultivating Relationships.” (Download the PDF)
- Participate in influential community or campus groups and use this as an opportunity to get the library’s message out and recruit advocates.
- Participate in state and national Library Legislative Days.
- Raise funds to help raise awareness and build support for the library.
- Join United for Libraries, the national support organization for Friends of Library groups.
- Recruit your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to give their support to libraries.
- Start an advocacy committee to work with library administrators and the board in building public awareness and support for the library.
- Support candidates who support the library and donate to their campaigns.
- Survey your library’s trustees, Friends and supporters. What civic or professional organizations do they belong to? Are they willing to write letters, call legislators and recruit more advocates? Do they have contacts with the media, administration, school board or community? Utilize this important resource.
- Thank everyone involved in an advocacy effort. Whether it’s a personal letter, or a party or plaque, a thank you is a powerful tool.
- Use a library message or quotation as part of your e-mail signature.
- Use your political savvy and connections on behalf of the library.
- Tells us your ideas! As you move forward in your advocacy endeavors, please let ALA know about your successes and feedback. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to share your tips. Your input and energy—will keep library advocacy moving forward!