Hopefully, many of you are feeling energized and refreshed after the Midwinter Meeting. Are you pumped about all the great things libraries are doing to help their communities grow and thrive, starting with our youngest citizens?
This month, I challenge you to take a look at the programs and services you currently offer, or want to offer, and ask yourself “why?” In my opinion, this is the first step in library advocacy. Library advocacy is supporting, and garnering support for, the library (including staff and departments), or a library product. To be successful, library advocates must understand the “why”, or else we’re just marketing services. Marketing is great, but you do not need to know why a program or service is important in order to entice people to attend the program, or use a service.
Let’s use a program, called “Play Date,” as an example. If I make a flyer for this program describing the many exciting activities that will take place, and I put that flyer in stores, apartment complexes, etc., I am marketing. Many people will probably attend. If they do, why does that matter? What did the program accomplish? Does my flyer reflect why this program is important to my community, or why the library should hold such a program?
If I take that same flyer and include “Because learning starts long before Kindergarten.” and suggest that attending the “Play Date” program will support baby brain development and provide opportunities for caregivers to receive free services and support for their babies, I am advocating, not only for libraries, but for babies and families, as well. Ideally, I will speak with daycare providers, parent groups, and other early learning organizations in my community about this program and ask them to partner with the library. In order to get their support, I will have to know why this program is beneficial to their clients and the community as a whole. Having explained the importance of the program and how it aligns with their missions, I should have many organizations and community members on board with not only the program, but with the library as a key player in the early learning community. Now, to the public eye, “Play Date” is not only a fun program, but a meaningful one.
This is just one example, but if you get in the habit of asking yourself “Why?” every time you think about planning a program or service, you will be more able to explain to stakeholders, or your next door neighbor, why supporting the library is a good idea. You will also more easily identify possible partners for a program or service when your “why” matches with another organization’s “why.” Since we are always busy in youth services, understanding the “why” will also help you prioritize programs and services and align them with your library’s strategic plan.
Bottom line, before you can explain to someone outside the library echo chamber why libraries are important, you have to know yourself. Do your research and talk to colleagues. Be prepared, and do nothing until you understand “why.”
Some resources that may be helpful:
District Dispatch -subscribe to this so you will be in the loop about issues needing advocacy
Advocacy University – tons of resources from the ALA Office of Library Advocacy
Kendra Jones is Co-Chair, with Africa Hands, of the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee. She is the District Manager for Youth & Family Services at Timberland Regional Library in Washington State.