March 17, 2018

Library Advocacy, Part 2: State and Local Coalitions Needed

By Norman Oder

  • New ALA push for state and local advocacy
  • In Nebraska, all join FOLUSA
  • In Colorado, library associations merge

If national advocacy was one theme of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Denver, so was the importance of state and local advocacy. ALA recently launched its Advocacy University and an Advocacy in a Tough Economy Toolkit. An advocacy committee, chaired by former ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano, is focusing primarily on state and local efforts, with assistance from the new Office for Library Advocacy.

And on Saturday, with ALA President Jim Rettig sounding his advocacy theme, Brey-Casiano chaired a panel on how to build statewide coalitions. Brey-Casiano first cited the recent effort by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to close 11 of 54 libraries—an effort in the short-term stymied by the courts. 

“If there is any good news in all of this, it is the strong advocacy effort that has literally sprung up overnight in Philadelphia,” Brey-Casiano pointed out, noting that Nutter’s campaign pledge to reduce the dropout rate and the crime rate seemed to contradict his unwillingness to keep libraries open.

Three panelists then gave reports from the field.

The Arizona example
Ann Ewbank, education liaison librarian at Arizona State University’s Fletcher Library, described coalition-building in Arizona, when the city of Mesa announced plans to eliminate certified teacher-librarians. She described outreach to other divisions in the Arizona Library Association. Why should academic librarians care? “Those kids go to your universities, and they won’t have a good grasp of information literacy,” she reported.

It is also important to advocate nationally, she said, because the change was symbolic. “If it could happen here, it could happen elsewhere, as well.” The board, however, was unwilling to listen to alternative proposals, and the plan has proceeded.

However, said Ewbank, the growth of grassroots coalitions should provide new strength in ongoing advocacy. “We all serve the same patrons,” she said. “We just serve them at different times in their lives and for different reasons.”

Going statewide in Nebraska
Rod Wagner, director of the Nebraska Library Commission, described how an effort to get all library Friends groups membership in FOLUSA (Friends of Libraries USA) provided more resources.

Given the state’s small size, Nebraska has “a longstanding tradition of all types of libraries working very well together,” he said. That led to healthy state outlays when the state budget was flush, and hedged against cuts when the budget shrunk 

In Colorado, the power of a merger
Martin Garnar, former president of the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL), described how a merger in 2002 of the Colorado Library Association and the Colorado Educational Media Association led to new strength, involving public, academic, and school libraries. In 2007, CAL incorporated special libraries, too. The board presidency rotates, and CAL contains several interest groups

He gave one recent example of the power of CAL. In partnership with the state library, which operates the Ask Colorado chat reference service, CAL has distributed copies of a public service announcement to spread across local media markets around the state.

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