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ALA Ventures Out Into Communities for New Advocacy Effort
Posted On November 27, 2018
To borrow a phrase from Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book, this could very well be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year for libraries, especially public and school libraries. As part of his FY2019 budget, the president re­portedly wants to eliminate fund­ing for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endow­ment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Public and school libraries are funded primarily by public sourc­es, such as taxes, usually requir­ing a referendum that adds to the state or city taxes paid by resi­dents. Other sources include pri­vate donations or grants and fed­eral agencies, particularly IMLS. The doom and gloom of any of these potential funding eliminations are twofold: 1) the federal entities pro­viding funds to libraries may them­selves be jettisoned by the current government, and 2) voters may no longer see the need for additional tax dollars going to libraries, both of which might result—and have resulted—in library closings na­tionwide. In response, ALA is con­ducting initiatives to increase awareness of the value of libraries at the federal, state, and communi­ty levels and to promote the value of libraries beyond books.

Although ALA’s mission “[t]o provide leadership for the devel­opment, promotion, and improve­ment of library and information services and the profession of li­brarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to in­formation for all” is still in prac­tice, in a 2017 update to its 2015 Strategic Plan, ALA emphasized the importance of advocacy as a method whereby “ALA and its members work with libraries, the broader library com­munity and members of the pub­lic to advocate for the value of li­braries and for public support for libraries of all types at the local, state, federal and international level.” This includes “raising pub­lic awareness of the value of li­braries, training and supporting library advocates, advancing leg­islation and policies that support information and library services in all types of libraries, and effective­ly responding to specific opportuni­ties and threats.” During the 2017 and 2018 ALA annual conferences, library advocacy and library advo­cacy programs took center stage.

Leaning Into Advocacy

The two most recent ALA pres­idents, Jim Neal (2017–2018) and Loida Garcia-Febo (2018–2019), launched robust advocacy pro­grams. Each program concen­trates on influencing specific but equally critical segments of library supporters.

Upon his election, Neal said, “My commitment is to a successful and influential ALA, to a profession characterized by service, diversity, impact and leadership, to the read­ers and users who depend on our li­braries, and to the individuals who work in and advocate in support of libraries. I will invest my experi­ence in advancing our priorities of advocacy, information policy, and professional and leadership de­velopment, always striving for an ALA built on ethics, inclusion, con­versation and transparency.” In October 2017, Neal insti­tuted the 12-member ALA Policy Corps, whose main goal is to work with decision makers on the fed­eral and state levels to represent the values of today’s libraries.

A long-serving advocate of li­braries, current president Garcia-Febo holds both a B.A. in business education and an M.L.S. from the University of Puerto Rico. Now a library consultant, she is also an author, an educator, and a mentor to librarians and information pro­fessionals. Over the years, Garcia-Febo has held several prestigious positions, including on the ALA Ex­ecutive Board from 2015 to 2018. She’s had numerous committee ap­pointments within ALA, including to the Committee on Diversity, the Intellectual Freedom Committee, and the Nominating Committee. She is currently the chairperson-elect of the International Relations Round Table and also sits on the governing board of the Internation­al Federation of Library Associa­tions and Institutions (IFLA).

In June 2018, Garcia-Febo in­troduced Libraries = Strong Com­munities, which is “aimed at high­lighting the value of academic, public and school libraries.” Its goal is to “create a groundswell of support at the lo­cal, state, national and global lev­el.” The press release continues, “In an era filled with political and social strife, our nation’s librar­ies continue to play an invaluable role in providing resources and expertise that foster community engagement and transform lives through education and lifelong learning.”

Garcia-Febo says, “As corner­stones of democracy, libraries em­power users to make informed de­cisions by providing free access to information. Libraries pro­vide more than just books. They support community engagement and the delivery of new services that connect closely with patrons’ needs. As libraries transform we should seize every opportunity to showcase their magnificent work.” Unlike the ALA Policy Corps, whose mandate is to work with policymakers, this initiative will focus on the communities where libraries are located to promote awareness and support of library staff and to showcase the value of library programs and resources.

Going on the Road

Libraries = Strong Communi­ties features a cross-country tour that began in October at the Pikes Peak Public Library District in Colorado. Additional visits in­clude the Seattle Public Library, the North Miami Public Library, and the Los Angeles Public Library. The tour will end on June 22, 2019, during the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. Garcia-Febo shares the following:

We will have outdoor ad­vocacy events at each loca­tion, and each event will be held in libraries placed in the middle of neighborhoods. Planning for each event will include academic, public, and school libraries as well as other library groups such as the state library chapters and ALA affiliates. Staff members from each library included on the tour, [and] ALA staff members from the Communications and Mar­keting Office, Chapter Rela­tions Office, [and] Office of Library Advocacy will all be connecting with local com­munity organizations, ALA state library chapters, gov­ernment officials, ALA lead­ership in each state, library workers and library patrons. We look forward to seeing many library workers and community members advo­cating for libraries at these events. We also hope the local media attend the event to help us amplify the support for libraries.

Advocacy Tools

In addition to this 9-month tour, plans are in place to provide library staffers with resources that will help them replicate this advocacy effort and promote the value of the programs and servic­es they provide to the community. ALA members can access Advoca­cy University, which offers resources by topic (such as bud­gets, funding, and fundraising or public relations and dealing with the media), challenge (e.g., “I don’t have time to advocate” or “I can’t get my decision mak­ers to listen”), and specific group (e.g., friends groups and trustees or special needs and underserved populations). The Frontline Ad­vocacy Tools & Resources page provides a link to the Frontline Advocacy Toolkit, which features the following:

  • Every Voice Makes a Difference: Training for Frontline Advocates, a webinar that teaches “how to empower all levels of library staff to become better advocates for their libraries and themselves”
  • Every Voice Makes a Difference flashcards in PDF for public, school, academic, and special libraries

The site’s online tutorials in­clude the following (plus addition­al ones focusing on college and university libraries and corporate, government, and other libraries):

  • Introduction: Frontline Advocacy Begins with You—Why do libraries need frontline advocates? Why are you your library’s best frontline advocate? What does a frontline advocate do? How do you get started?
  • Advocacy for Public Libraries—The message of the library’s value and needs must be spread by every library employee. Every staff member should think about the power of persuasion and be willing to communicate in a variety of ways. In the public library, everyone is on the front line.
  • Where School is Cool! The Frontline Advocacy for School Libraries Toolkit—In the school library world, all library staff and everyone who has direct contact with the school library media center—librarians, media specialists, paraprofessionals, clerks, secretaries, volunteers, students, parents, teachers, site council members and principals—can easily be advocates—‘frontline advocates’—for their school’s library.

The Libraries = Strong Commu­nities initiative plans to help library staffers effectively showcase their stories; a publicity toolkit comes complete with sample press releas­es, fliers, public service announce­ments, social media tips, download­able artwork, and webinars.

Garcia-Febo sums up the pro­gram: “Libraries are uniquely po­sitioned to help our nation come together. Libraries help commu­nities thrive whether they are ac­ademic, public, special or school libraries. By working at the grass­roots level, this effort will help to solidify communities.”

It’s a laudable effort, and Li­braries = Strong Communities combined with the ALA Policy Corps should certainly help library staffers even more articulately and effectively promote what they of­fer to the communities that they serve—as well as secure and retain the funding required to survive.

Corilee Christou is president of C2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in leveraging and licensing digital content of all types to traditional and internet-based companies using new and innovative business models.

Email Corilee Christou

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