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When it Comes to Advocacy, Language Matters

The ALSC Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee is updating the ALSC “Everyday Advocacy” webpage. The page includes resources on how ALSC members can advocate for themselves and for children on the importance of library services for our youngest patrons. A new addition will be information on working with legislators, an especially important group as we face a record number of book and program challenges, and states creating legislation that either supports or opposes intellectual freedom. As we communicate with our local, state, and federal legislators, we need to keep in mind that clarity of language matters. Legislators may not know the Library Acronym Alphabet, but we can meet them where they are.  

Do you have a fun, engaging name for story time? Great! Your community loves Razzle Dazzle Rhyme Time! But your state legislator has no idea what Razzle Dazzle Rhyme Time is. To explain the importance of what you do and how it impacts child development, use clear language that is acronym and glitter free. Instead of Razzle Dazzle Rhyme Time, you can say you hold a story time that incorporates music and movement to enhance children’s experience, develop language skills, and increase learning retention. Now the legislator knows exactly what you do and why it is beneficial to children in the community, even if they don’t know the super-fun program name.  

Similarly, not all legislators will be familiar with jargon that is common in the library world. To make your message clear, try swapping out phrases like “programs on a shoestring budget” for “programs that extend taxpayer dollars,” or perhaps, “programs that can still be held on a diminishing budget.” Depending on your legislator, consider saying “reducing access to materials” or “limiting first amendment rights” when introducing the subject of book challenges. Using language that legislators can relate to means your message will be easily understood. It will allow you to get straight to the meat of an issue rather than spending precious time explaining what a program or service is. 

Finally, when deciding how to present your points to legislators, do a bit of digging first. What committees are they on? What were their campaign promises? Do they share personal interests or family life? Do your best to highlight what you do for the community that aligns with their goals. There should be common ground as libraries and legislators both strive to serve their communities to the best of their ability.  

Regardless of the topic, two words will always go a long way, especially with a group that is typically contacted for complaints rather than praise: thank you. 

This post addresses ALSC competency I.5 Demonstrates respect for diversity and inclusion of cultural values, and continually develops cultural awareness and works to address implicit bias in order to provide inclusive and equitable service to diverse populations. 

Joanna Goldfarb is writing this post on behalf of the Public Awareness and Advocacy Committee.  She can be reached at 

One comment

  1. vasan City Acadamey

    This update to the ALSC “Everyday Advocacy” webpage is a commendable step towards strengthening the impact of library services advocacy. It’s great to see a focus on equipping ALSC members with the tools to clearly and effectively communicate with legislators, especially in times when library programs and intellectual freedom are under increased scrutiny. The emphasis on using accessible language rather than industry jargon is crucial for fostering understanding and support among policymakers who are not familiar with library-specific terminology. This approach not only enhances advocacy efforts but also bridges gaps between librarians and legislative bodies. Looking forward to seeing the positive changes this will bring!

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