Advocacy needs many advocates

Library Advocacy: A Fire in the belly

A passionate belief in your business and personal objectives can make all the difference between success and failure. If you aren’t proud of what you’re doing, why should anybody else be? Quote from Richard Branson

Recently I read an Editorial by Rebecca Miller in The Library Journal that reminded me that Library advocacy is an evolving, continual process and not a single one off event. It requires passionate librarians and library staff to connect to our communities and gather community advocates to our cause. Collecting our user stories and promoting the library outcomes from their perspective is also essential if we are to persuade community, funders and politicians that libraries deliver what we say we deliver.

To do this intentionally Librarians need to build an advocacy plan and communicate this to their staff and engage their staff and community actively in advocacy roles.

The Library Dividend for Advocacy purposes: Sue McKerracher CEO ALIA
  1. Build your evidence base : Yes, this is where all those statistics that Libraries collect come in handy. Core to building the evidence base is to do the analysis — it is not just about numbers, trends or key performance targets. This is about are we achieving what we aim to. Return on Investment for libraries is something that can be calculated and there are many library calculators that can be used. The State Library of Queensland undertook research in 2012 to develop a relevant calculation for Queensland Public Libraries to use and produced a suite of tools to aid libraries to advocate to their Councils. Titled The Library Dividend: a study of the socio-economic value of Queensland public libraries, this independent study provided evidence, case studies, key messages and tools that libraries could use to build their advocacy message.
  2. Prove your Impact : In 2016 State Library of Queensland published a second piece of research to enable public libraries to measure their impact. The Creative Spaces Impact Framework is designed for libraries to measure the impact of the many activities and services they deliver. These impacts are about the outcomes of the activity — not just about the numbers surrounding the activity. Thinking about the outcome or impact of what we are doing will also allow libraries to be more deliberate about what activities they are delivering to ensure maximum impact for their individual communities.
The Impact of Libraries as Creative Spaces: The report

3. Create your conversation starters: These 2 pieces of research are a sample of other wonderful work that has been done globally to help libraries position themselves well within their funding institutions. IFLA has also done some wonderful work creating the Libraries, Development and the United Nations 2030 Agenda document and advocacy tools. And all of these tools can be used to develop your conversation starters for different audiences and influencers within your organisations and communities. And build a set of local stories that support your evidence and advocacy messages. These should be in a multiple of forms — blog posts from users, feedback, video storytelling, and statistics. To gather these stories you will need to ensure library staff are on board as they will often be the ones that have firsthand knowledge of the stories with the most impact.

4. Define your ask: Advocacy is not about the conversation. Library Managers must get comfortable with the ‘ask’. What is it you are seeking from the advocacy campaign.

We need a new library

We need to upgrade our building

We need more staff

We need to be included in council strategies around youth, family services, learning, arts and culture

We need funding to improve our collection, deliver learning programs,entrepreneur center

We need approval for our digital strategy

We need council to see libraries in a new light

5. Find your community influencers and connect : Now you have the advocacy campaign evidence, key messages and the key asks it is time to deliver it to key community members. This means networking, inviting these people to key events in the library, going to key events where they will be and connect. Not for the fainthearted but it is an absolute necessity. Some targeted individuals you will want to connect with so that they become your advocates and these will be people you already have a connection with. Others are who you will need to convince that libraries are relevant and deliver real impact and still others you will need to explain what a library does and how it has changed since they were last in one in school. CILIP, ALIA, ALA, IFLA — many Library Associations provide advocacy campaign opportunities to set up these networking events throughout the year. The Summer Reading Club, Library Lovers Day, Library and Information Week are just a few of some national and international campaigns that you can implement in your library and involve those influential community members, politicians and staff.

6. Employee Advocates : And last but no means least you will need to communicate and ensure your library staff have the means, the messages and the ability to advocate every day. There are many ways that staff can be involved and these should be included and explicit in your advocacy plan. Staff need to understand the importance of their role and that their passion and belief in the library can be set free to purposeful communication with the community.

And of course we need to share our advocacy plans, and efforts. What worked for us, what have we learned over the time so that we all become more effective and innovative in our advocacy practice. And as per the Richard Branson quote I began with a passionate belief in our industry and what our impact is makes all the difference between success and failure.

Maintain that passion, invest in maintaining it and believe!