I met Lori Rivas at National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) 2017 and knew instantly that I wanted to share her story with the ALSC community. Lori is a library consultant with Southern California Library Cooperative (SCLC). She received the WHCLIST Award, which recognizes non-librarians for their advocacy work and supports their participation in NLLD. I hope librarians and non-librarians alike are inspired by Lori’s tireless efforts to support libraries in her community.
Lori brought her son Eli (pictured here) along to NLLD. He told her, “all these librarians are so nice! It makes me think that maybe I should be a librarian, too.” Looks like we got another one!
Please give an overview of your advocacy experience.
For 20 years, I home-schooled my children, depending on public library resources and programming. In 2010, our city, Santa Clarita, CA, proposed contracting with a private company for the management of our public libraries. All my momma bear energy and activism juices were galvanized into the fight to keep our local public libraries truly public. Together with like-minded citizens, we organized efforts to oppose the private contract, which gained national and international attention.
I have advocated for public library services, by staying informed of library management, meeting with our city council members, speaking at city council meetings, campaigning for library services during local elections, writing for our local media, and hosting a Free Little Library in my front yard. I have coordinated meetings between, and maintain good rapport with, city staff, private library management and professional librarians, to improve reporting statistics.
What has been the most effective tool in your advocacy work?
I am driven to preserve public libraries as a social service, a leveling of the playing field, in a culture which increasingly shuts down the disenfranchised. Following my passion keeps library advocacy fresh and encourages me to trudge through when I have a particularly boring task.
Building relationship with a range of people – not only library staff, management and patrons, but also local activists, elected officials, government workers, local media, educators, non-profits and political groups – brings in new ideas, builds coalitions, helps to see tasks from multiple points of view. I am mostly just the point person, so to speak, for the hard work, ideas, and research of many, many others.
Listening is a big tool – asking questions, and then just listening. Lots and lots of listening. Reacting in the moment is often my weakest work; asking questions, letting answers and information simmer on the back burner of my brain, reflecting on the larger picture – this is when I can construct my strongest actions.
What is the greatest obstacle you encountered?
Certainly, I have encountered a large amount of political knee-jerk reactions, and this goes for both sides of the aisle. Immediate assumptions are always an obstacle. Personally, I came at this as a library patron, and so I am always playing catch-up with understanding library management in particular.
Big picture, my community sees libraries as largely icing on the cake, not as a vital community service, and that has been a big challenge – just legitimizing public libraries, period.
What recommendations do you have for other library patrons or staff who want to advocate for their library?
- Know your community.
- Understand not only who uses your libraries, but who depends on your libraries.
- Follow your passion.
- Think outside the box.
- Reach out to others – to ask questions and for support.
- Be part of the larger community.
- Invite marginalized voices to the decision-making table.
- Capitalize on broad community support.
- Take full advantage of public records.
- Be bold in your proposals.
What’s next in your advocacy work?
In my community, I feel that I have hit a wall. And so, I am working to legitimize my voice a bit and strengthen my knowledge of library management by working at Southern California Library Cooperative. I’m also pursuing professional groups and workshops through the ALA. Earning my MLIS is on the horizon, once my youngest kid is more on autopilot. I hope to be working in libraries for the foreseeable future.
Public libraries are life in communities.
Africa S. Hands (@africahands) co-chairs the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee.