April 22, 2018

The World According to ALA’s Sheketoff: How To Lobby for What You Need

By Lynn Blumenstein

  • Know who makes the financial decisions; get to know them
  • Explain what could be done with the resources you deserve
  • Make alliances; don’t let up until the check clears

Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office, gave a standing-room audience the lowdown on “Lobbying for Operational Expenses” at the ALA Annual Conference yesterday in Anaheim. Urging the audience of mostly public librarians to broadly define their community—including businesses, children, stay-at-home moms, and immigrants—she acknowledged that such constituencies all pose different challenges. However, she said, “No matter what your community needs, the library is the answer.”

Know who makes the financial decisions in your community, Sheketoff said, and get to know their staff. Invite them to library programs. Business people often can best understand a library’s budget concerns. Tap library supporters who have personal connections with decision makers. 
She reminded listeners of the “five-p” rule: “Prior preparation prevents poor performance.”  In order to make the most out of your pitch, said Sheketoff, try and link a data point with an anecdote and, guess what, stories with children are best.

“Libraries are very complicated, expensive organisms,” she said. “You want to give the public a vision of what they can have.” So if a library system isn’t functioning at its best with a limited or reduced budget, she advised librarians to let the public know the consequences. Tell them why a valued employee left for another town, she urged. Show gratitude for what you do get, but also talk about what you could accomplish with more.

“I can guarantee you that legislators don’t know what you could do with the resources you deserve,” Sheketoff observed. “You have to make them understand. It’s your job.” 

(Check the LJ 2008 ALA Annual Conference page for more live coverage.)

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