Libraries, like many other cultural institutions often find it difficult to ‘prove our worth’ in a traditional economic sense and we invariably find ourselves falling back on anecdotal evidence and strong narrative to tell the story of our value to our communities. Advocating for our libraries has become an essential skill across all library sectors and is something most of us do (even unconsciously) every day.
We often speak of advocacy and lobbying as the same thing, but as Sue McKerracher describes in Your Guide: 10 steps to successful advocacy, they are two quite distinct things:
“The two are often mentioned in the same sentence, but they are different and require a different approach and tone of voice. Advocacy is the continuous process of promoting positive messages about your library and information service. It is something that never stops. Lobbying is a much more specific activity, within a defined period, with a clear goal in mind. The important thing to remember is that great advocacy creates a strong platform for lobbying initiatives.” (InCite, v. 31, i.11, p.20)
To go further, lobbying is specifically the “practice and profession of influencing governmental decisions, carried out by agents who present the concerns of special interests to legislators and administrators“. The ALA provides a page of information designed to help library lobbyists target legislators and decision makers.
Organised library or library adjacent campaigns build on McKerracher’s notion of strong platforms, such as library associations and ‘friends of libraries’ groups, to deliver targeted lobbying on specific issues. A couple of recent examples from opposite sides of the globe include:
- Speak up for libraries in the UK lobbies local members of parliament to secure funding for libraries (read a report on this February 2016 event),
- 2015 Cooking for Copyright in Australia campaigned for copyright law reform, particularly as it relates to unpublished works such as recipes and diaries.
- Have you ever taken part in a march, rally, demonstration or campaign for libraries?
- Has your library (the one you work in or perhaps your local library) ever run a campaign against funding cuts or building closures?
- What sort of advocacy does your library do – how does it present itself and its services to the community?
- What do you say when someone asks you what you do as a librarian (or library student?)
Over the next couple of weeks we will hear about a range of stories relating to library advocacy and lobbying, including an update on our story from two years ago about a last minute lobbying campaign that saved a local public library here in suburban Sydney.