On Advocacy and Relationships
04/15/2011 1 Comment
I was going to write a post titled something like “Brief Thoughts on National Library Week”, but it seems to me that’s already been covered fairly well by enough thoughtful people in LibraryLand. One of those people, David Lee King, posted a brief piece this week on how libraries should advocate for themselves year-round. A point made every year during National Library Week, it’s a sentiment that seems to be gaining popularity and sparking strong suggestions about how libraries, particularly public and school libraries, continue to struggle beneath their own underrepresentation.
Libraries should be advocating all year–all the time. They should be in continual contact with city managers, school boards, local media outlets, and community leaders. Advocacy begins and ends with networking–building relationships. Relationships and networks are grown by letting everyone in on what it is you do. People still don’t know to any extent what libraries and librarians do. Why not? Because we haven’t told them. We haven’t dug deep enough often enough.
Every library has its superfans. You know those people who are always in the library. They know the staff, they use all the materials, they attend programs and events, they make donations and maybe even support the Friends group. Why? Because they know what librarians do and what libraries offer them and their communities. When they are shown what libraries are all about–how they promote learning and literacy, augment student resources and improve test scores, and facilitate creativity, connections, and professional growth–people get excited about it and want to be part of it. These people have a relationship with their library, so it’s easy to reach them and to get them to do some advocating of their own.
Surely, if these patrons were in charge of your school or city budgets, they would consider libraries, like schools, untouchable community institutions. But they aren’t in charge. The ones who write the checks might not have used a library in recent memory. They may have little idea of your library’s many functions, let alone where it aspires to go next. And unless you plan to spend National Library Week convincing every one of those people of your library’s value, those seven days just aren’t going to cut it.
These are potentially game-changing relationships. They need time and attention. Advocacy outside the echo chamber is a natural part of any library’s management plan. It simply needs to be exercised with greater attention.
It’s encouraging to see all the people in my own network who have exhibited genuine passion for advocacy this week. I hope those with experience will read this post and share their insider knowledge and advocacy best practices.