Part of the charge for the Advocacy and Legislation Committee is to empower ALSC members in their advocacy efforts. We aim to do this, in part, by sharing stories from the field, stories of other librarians doing advocacy work on a local or state level. In my work, we’ve been using stories differently. We’ve been working to collect and uplift the stories of individuals directly impacted by various laws or discriminatory practices in order to effect change. Our story collection initiative got me thinking that libraries can benefit from the same type of story collecting and sharing.
How do you get started with Advocacy Through Stories?
It may take the form of a Humans of New York-type project if your library is staffed with IT and marketing professionals with time to tackle such a project. Or a simpler approach may be to collect stories of those impacted by your library services and resources using an online form such as a Google Form. You’ll want to collect the patron’s name, story, possibly a photo and, at the very least, zip code. The full address is better for identifying their legislators or city council members with whom you’ll share the story.
How will you promote your story collection initiative?
If you’re using an online form, place a link with more details on the library homepage or print table tent cards or bookmarks with a shortened, memorable URL; promote it like you would any other program. By far the best way to spread the word is through your front line staff working in circulation, reference, and programming. These staff members are likely the ones with whom your patrons are already sharing their library wins. Enlist staff to solicit patrons’ stories to support library advocacy efforts.
You’ve collected stories, now what?
Where you share your stories may depend on what’s happening in your local and state politics. Naturally, National Library Legislative Day (NLLD) presents an opportunity to share these stories with legislators and their staffers. For those unable to attend NLLD, Virtual Library Legislative Day (VLLD) is another option. ALA provides resources such as issue briefs to help you prepare for both events. Many state library associations and Friends groups host lobby days at the state capitol once a year. Like NLLD and VLLD, you’ll be equipped with information about bills impacting libraries in your state and learn how to effectively lobby legislators and communicate the value of libraries. When you meet with legislators you’ll be ahead of the game, prepared with personal stories from their constituents.
This three-point ‘Advocacy Through Stories’ plan is relatively straightforward: create an online story form; inform and enlist staff to promote and collect patrons’ stories; and share stories with legislators, elected officials, and decisions makers. Everyday Advocacy has additional tips for using stories. If you’re currently collecting and using stories to advocate for your library, let us know in the comments. If you face opposition, let us know that as well; the ALSC community may have helpful suggestions.
Africa S. Hands is Co-Chair of the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee & Operations and Development Associate for the ACLU of Kentucky in Louisville.