If there’s anything the 2016 presidential election cycle taught us, it’s be prepared. We can never underestimate the groundswell of support for an issue, institution, or person who may not support what a library provides to its community; the reliance on fake news rather than on facts (and how easy it is to have it go viral); or the power of emotion over reason.
As library people, we’ve been taught to respond to our community’s needs (and even emotions) through careful planning grounded in fact-finding. I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I am ready to, perhaps, try a different shampoo or soap or change the temperature of the water to protect what we have and what we know the community needs.
What has also become apparent, now that our national political landscape has flipped, is that library advocacy at all levels—national, state, and local—is going to be more important than ever. You can’t wait until you’ve got just a few scant months to organize for a vote or move your local municipal leaders to increase funding. You’ve got to build your advocacy team now—before you need it.
As trustees, Friends, volunteers, and patrons, you already have an affinity for your library. Turn that commitment into action by building a strong team that will be ready to put strategies into action on day one.
- Think about who has stepped up for and is passionate about your library. Who would be an effective spokesperson? Who has connections in the community you can leverage? Who has time to devote? Who can organize tasks and people? It’s not just your board and Friends. Think about patrons, community/opinion leaders, and moms and dads who are committed to the library’s programs and services. Put together a core group of five to ten people who are forward thinking and can plan for future efforts. Use online tools such as Google Calendar, Google Groups, and Google Drive to keep everyone informed.
- Create your advocacy plan. Now that you’ve got a core group together, figure out what your goal is. Is there a library budget or building referendum ballot in your future? Do you need to impress upon your local municipality the importance of increasing the library’s funding? Once you know your goal, you can map out objectives such as messaging and campaign branding, community outreach for support, phone banking and other voter identification activities, outreach to elected officials, Get Out the Vote, etc.
- Figure out who is doing what. Who will write materials? Who will speak with the press? Who will coordinate community outreach and presentations? Who has the relationship with the mayor and local elected officials? These are all important questions you ask—and then need to answer—while creating your plan. The core of any effective advocacy team is the willingness to take responsibility for tasks. It’s not enough for folks to say, “Yeah, I’ll help out.” We need team members to say, “Yes, I’ll schedule all the public presentations,” or “I’ll coordinate the campaign’s messaging,” or “I’ll organize the phone banks.”
- Determine library stakeholders and get them involved. Reaching out to library stakeholders and other community/opinion leaders is essential. You don’t necessarily want them on the core team, but you do want them speaking out on behalf of your library’s goal. Voters and elected officials expect to hear how important the library is from trustees, Friends, or active volunteers. But hearing your library’s advocacy message from the president of the local chamber of commerce, the chair of the Rotary Club, the head of the school board, or the president of the Little League will carry as much, if not more, weight because they are not directly related to the library. Once you identify these folks, ask them to speak out at specific venues or meetings and make sure they have your talking points. They can fashion them to match up with their own thoughts, but these stakeholders have to stay on the library’s message.
- Have a campaign calendar that drives your advocacy goal. Make sure everyone involved knows what has to be done when. Keep adding to the calendar—community meetings, deadlines for mailing materials, dates for phone banking. Having an advocacy plan that is driven by a calendar that the team has access to and can add to will keep everyone on task.
Putting together an advocacy team before you need one gives you strength in numbers and a base from which to organize. If your vote is a year away, getting people together now who will take on tasks and build a solid foundation of support is key to your success.
Libby Post is President/CEO of Communication Services and serves on the American Library Association’s Library Advocacy Committee.