Quick Note on Advocacy

As mentioned in a previous post, there are things afoot in response to the devastating 74% state funding cut to libraries in New Jersey. After starting the Facebook group, I’ve been looking for new and additional ways to spread the message and get people active in saving their libraries. In gearing up for this fight, there are some things that have caught my attention.

First, while the fight is statewide, the real efforts are local. As in, being able to explain to my patrons what the cuts means to them. Overall, my library system is not in bad shape; these cuts will not result in shorter service hours, layoffs, or other reduction in quality of service. The real cut is that our materials budget will be reduced by 25% along with finding money to replace the databases. My colleagues and I are working on the best way to portray that to the public in order to make our case. As the saying goes, “All politics are local”; so here we are in a position to show our patron what the cuts mean to them. It’s hard to ignore how this will negatively affect other libraries beyond my county (since the cuts felt will be more dramatic), but that’s a secondary case to be made.

Second, for a group of people who can make recommendations for materials and services, we really don’t seem to be comfortable with making a case for our own continued existence. I’m not sure what the deal is, whether it is a case of modesty or sense of political neutrality, but when it comes to articulating why libraries are essential to communities in an age of information (and the information economy), we seem to get all tied up in knots. Perhaps it is because we as an institution have never really been put to this sort of test. In any event, I certainly hope that people can get over their hang-ups and begin to speak up.

For myself, I try to make the case for libraries with each patron. It may sound silly, but I try to treat every request as being the utmost importance. I think of it this way: they have taken time out of their day to come to the library so it’s my job to make it a good experience. Sure, it doesn’t always work, and not everyone leaves with a smile, but I try to make their time at the library worthwhile. It’s something no publicity campaign can really do for us; it’s all about the individual and making that time spent in our walls valuable.

What more can librarians do?

16 thoughts on “Quick Note on Advocacy

  1. Hi – good blog! I went to a pre-conference once at ALA & these WA moms spoke about advocacy & how librarians can only say so much, need to get the public to speak up on their behalf & become the voice of advocacy of libraries & librarians. Sometimes means way more to have the public speak up for them.

  2. Libraries are taken for granted until services are cut. Then all hell breaks loose. Suddenly people are complaining about what they’ve lost. Whether it’s shorter hours to give them a place to study, loss of databases and other materials, nobody around to help with tech probelms because it’s “Furlough Friday” etc.

    I’m speaking from an academic library perspective, but the same applies to public. It’s a sad commentary on human behavior, but if you want to get people motivated to “save libraries” or any other public service really, take something away. We had students chaining themselves to desk in our library to protest the shorter hours. No one gave a crap when we WARNED them what would happen if our budget was cut. They only cared when it happened.

    Tom Keifer said it best, I think. ;-)

    • There lays a pretty big problem; getting funded restored once it is completely taken away. I know in Ohio they were able to pass tax levies to cover the gap after the state budget, but that’s a big effort compared to lobbying at the state level.

      I think there is also the “big baby syndrome”: people want lower taxes and more government service, and it just doesn’t happen. You either pay or you don’t, and if you don’t want to pay, then you’re not going to get the services.

      It seems odd that, in a time when people say we are in a knowledge/information economy, libraries are having to really struggle to prove their merit. Or maybe it’s just odd to me because I’m on the inside.

  3. California is facing the same crisis and the chatter on our California School Library listserve has been full of ideas. One that seemed far out, but just might work, was to send Oprah a “suggestion” (I guess there is a link on her site) to do a show on Libraries. She reaches millions every day.

    We’re also writing letters to our representatives, wearing “save our libraries” buttons, etc. But, you’re right, we’re not great at putting it out there and coming up with advocacy for ourselves. What about some sort of visual display that shows the reduction in funding in a clever way? It could be near your entrance to catch the attention of patrons.

  4. I agree with Cyndi, having the patrons do the speaking can be incredibly helpful. Once patrons see how budget cuts affect them personally, they are more apt to speak out and say “this is what we need” and “this is why we need it.”

    • We are working on graphics to make the local case. (As in, how it will effect people at the local level.) I’m working on a series of posters that should drive the message home.

      I’ll post pictures once I make them. =D

      • I would love to see you actually pose the implicit question here — “hey librarians, how do you make the case for libraries with your patrons?” I guess I could ask it on my blog but you have eleventy-million more readers…

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  6. “For myself, I try to make the case for libraries with each patron”

    You got it Andy. I try to make each one of my teen patrons feel important. They have their own individual personalities and I do my best to learn them all. I welcome them when they stop by for a visit and I make it well known that I am so happy to have them in the library. Without people, we are nothing.

  7. I liked with what Cyndi on how patrons speaking to patrons could be very effective. Above all, though, I believe that librarians need to be more forceful. As most people here have commented, librarians (for some reason) are -for lack of a better word-TIMID when it comes to advocating and illustrating why they are needed. Is this because there are no good concrete reasons to support that argument?? I believe that there are great reasons, actually. But I believe that we all, as librarians, need to be louder, more animated, and more passionate. One of the generalizations slapped onto the ‘librarian’ label is that we are quiet. If anything, we should be shocking people with how loud we can be. And I do not mean in a radical sense. I mean in a passionate sense. We should have a love for what we do and the services we offer! So within each of our local environments we should be banding together, putting any petty grievances and politics aside (you know that they exist, unfortunately) and begin a steady, non-costly campaign of why we have been here, how and what we contribute to each neighborhood, and how we can continue to do so. This, combined with getting patrons involved, could be a saving grace.

  8. By my reckoning, you’re underestimating the impact of the cuts on your own library system. Even assuming that you really are only looking at 25% materials budget loss and some money-shuffling to replace the statewide databases, the loss of JerseyCat will be devastating to the ILL process. Interlibrary loan through JerseyCat is free to us (or at least as nearly free as anything we do), by virtue of its being funded by the State Library via the RLC’s. By contrast, OCLC interlibrary loans cost the borrowing library between $7-$10 *per loan*, before factoring in that some lending libraries charge for those loans. No matter how good your collection is, there’s just no avoiding ILL; there’s too much stuff out there. And the loss of JerseyCat represents nothing less than a catastrophic change in the ILL process for New Jersey libraries.
    Now those of us who are in the state’s few county library systems have the slight advantage of having a handful of local branches from which to pull materials within the system, along with our own internal couriers to shuttle them between branches. Most of the state, though, relies on the RLCs’ delivery service. That’s another cost networks of municipal libraries large and small–to say nothing of reciprocal borrowing agreements between adjacent consortia–are going to have to replace out of pocket just to maintain what we now regard as basic levels of service.
    You obviously know your way around an advocacy campaign, and I very much doubt that you’re in any way soft-pedaling your local efforts. But don’t get lulled into the belief that this isn’t going to turn your library system–or any other in the state–on its head; it will.

  9. “It may sound silly, but I try to treat every request as being the utmost importance.”

    I agree with this – I’ve written before, that as glib as it may sound there’s truth in the maxim that we’re only as good as our last customer interaction. Reputation-wise, certainly.

    The biggest weapon in our armoury, in terms of image, is good customer service. It doesn’t reach those who don’t already use the library and it won’t get much publicity, but it’s free, incredibly easy to apply, and essential.

  10. In Florida for the second year in a row, we saved State Aid to Libraries through phone calls, over 60,000 emails through FLA’s Capwiz program (provided by ALA), and supporters in Tallahassee like “the Library Guy” who put a personal face on the issue. In my library, we flyered all the public access computers for a couple weeks (two different ones, the second one updated with a status report) and in the final day we handed out flyers at circulation and to patrons who rented our meeting room. Next year if (probably when), we’re in the same boat, I’m thinking we should also put a bookmark in every hold and ILL we fill stating that this service will no longer be provided if the proposed budget goes through and we lose our cooperative, with FLA’s website provided for more info. In my group of friends, everyone was facebooking about the issue and our library sent out appeals through our email list and through our facebook page. Also, whenever a patron asks me, “Does it cost money to take a computer class/attend a program/use the internet/download an audiobook?” I tell them, “No, thank you, your taxes pay for this service.” It’s a nice spin, instead of saying what we do is free.

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