As the new school year begins, it’s an excellent time to consider how to integrate ongoing advocacy efforts into your library program.
The point is to highlight what your library does and inform your larger community about your library and your program. In a recent article I wrote for School Library Journal, “Everyday Advocacy“, there are many suggestions for ways to use online tools for advocacy purposes.
But obviously it’s important to have something that you do for students that you are advocating for. So before any other goal, make it a priority to improve your own information technology skills and share new strategies with your staff and students. It’s imperative that in order to advocate for your program, you have to be offering students the best you can in library services. Make a constant effort to educate yourself about the best and newest library tools and practices.
Everyday advocacy also requires a constant effort to think beyond the walls of your library and have a sense of the larger community you serve. How does what the library does affect a harried family evening of homework, for example? How does what the library does encourage a student whose parent is struggling to get them to read?
And advocacy can be anything small to large. Signage(even in the bathroom!)–logos, notes printed at the bottom of overdue notices, attitudes of staff–all the public faces you put on your library are part of advocacy, a fact I recalled clearly when listening to a Texas State Library webinar featuring Paul Pearson.
Don’t forget to think outside the box as you create an image/vision of your library for your community. Chip and Dan Heath remind us in their book “Made to Stick” that the element of surprise is a way to make an idea “sticky” and memorable. For example Andy Woodworth started a Facebook group to lobby for a library “flavored” Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Recently he used Twitter to convince the “Old Spice” advertising team to create a YouTube spot about libraries. (tinyurl.com/2fb57bf)
Canadian teacher Clarence Fisher shared a quote on Twitter from Michael Wesch that is apropros: ““Doing crazy things together creates community.”” What outside the box things can you do that create community around your library?
Don’t forget to ask for help or seek outside sources of support for creative ideas. In California, Mrs. Nelson’s book shop asked children’s authors to contribute artwork to their Save California’s Libraries campaign–and they did. Ask and you might receive!
There are also a variety of ways to use the power of a network to help you with ongoing advocacy. If you aren’t up to doing this for your own library, consider asking your district to set up a “district” library social media presence, where someone can highlight great things going on in all of the school libraries. I recently started a district library blog to highlight positive events in all of our district libraries. I’ve created districtwide Animoto slideshows for publicity from photos each librarian sends me. Spread the tasks around the district to lighten the load and make your programs more visible.
As I mentioned in the article, whether your efforts are large or small, don’t wait for a crisis to build support and to tell the story of what your library does. Even that may not protect your library if budgets are slashed statewide, but at least if you have changed the perception of a library in the eye of your students and parents, you have done other libraries down the road a service. When the public is advocating for you — when students are advocating for you–because they now understand how libraries help students–then legislators are much more likely to listen.
Colorado’s Public Library Advocacy site lays out our options: “1.We can do nothing, and decline in silence. 2. We can complain about the situation to ourselves. 3. We can take steps to positively influence & reframe public perceptions about the financial support of libraries.”(bhagcolorado.blogspot.com)
In Made to Stick, the Heaths remind us about Ronald Reagan’s question at the 1980 presidential debate, asking voters to reflect if they were better off than four years before. He used the power of a question to change the nature of the election. If we do the same and ask, “Would our children be better off without libraries than they were before?” what would be the answer?
Start this new year off telling your story. Don’t be afraid to try something new.