I often hear about the importance of advocating for youth services to the rest of the library; however, youth services librarians are also excellently poised to help their communities recognize the lasting, positive outcomes of investing in their public libraries.
It was good news last year for American libraries when President Trump signed a bill that increased the IMLS budget by about $2 million. However, an updated study by ALA and OCLC, From Awareness to Funding: Voter Perceptions and Support of Public Libraries in 2018, found that most voters don’t realize how much public libraries are not funded by federal sources like IMLS: “86% of public library funding comes from local government sources; yet, 59% of voters think most library funding comes from non-local sources.” This is a problem when voters show less financial commitment to their local libraries than they did a decade ago: “only 58% of respondents are likely to vote for library budget increases, as opposed to 73% in 2008.”
Data from elections across the country also demonstrate a lack in voter commitment to fund public libraries. In 2018, EveryLibrary gathered data from 66 local elections that took place that year. A spreadsheet on their website provides detailed information about each election. While, most of the library budgets passed, 13 budgets did not pass in communities from every region in the United States. Ironically, the ALA study notes that “[c]ommitment to library-funding support does not align with voter attitudes and use of the library.”
Youth services librarians regularly serve some of the biggest library-lovers—and they should share positive outcomes throughout the year rather than wait until a budget must be passed. The ALA study cites a 2013 report by the PEW Research Center where, in a survey of 2,252 people, 94% of respondents who were parents of minors claimed that public libraries were important to their families. Moreover, parents—especially moms—were more likely to be avid library users.
I saw the impact of reaching out to this constituency last year, when I worked as the children’s librarian in a small coastal community in New England. When the budget committee threatened to significantly cut the library’s funding for the next fiscal year, my director led a massive “I Love My Library” campaign. The families using the library knew it was a major asset for them, but many other members of the community did not. Fortunately, the budget passed due to the relentless efforts of my director and community support.
Constant advocacy can be daunting, but there are a wealth of resources to help, many of which have been highlighted in previous ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee posts. Moreover, most state library organizations also have advocacy resources, even if they aren’t youth services-specific.
Communities need to invest in their local public libraries. Youth services librarians can use their influence to garner support for the library as a whole. After all, without the entire library, there wouldn’t be a youth services section in the first place.
Erica Ruscio is a member of the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee. She currently resides in Madison, WI where she works for the Madison Public Library and the Madison Metropolitan School District.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: V. Outreach and Advocacy.