Advocacy from the Inside Out – 5 Tips to Motivate & Mobilize
By Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, Coordinator for Library Growth & Sustainability for the Mid-Hudson Library System
As libraries of all types around New York gear up for the State advocacy season in Albany now is the perfect time to help internal stakeholders and super supporters feel more comfortable and confident as library advocates.
Over the past few years we have conducted what we refer to as the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Experiment at the Mid-Hudson Library System. Early in the “experiment” we were able to make a direct correlation between an increase in database usage and frontline staff comfort levels with specific products. When the staff felt more comfortable and confident with a database they were more likely to talk it up and spread the word to patrons.
We took that learning and applied it to advocacy training in our System and have had good results! By educating our frontline advocates – library staff, trustees and Friends Groups – about the impact of state funding, key decision maker identification and basic message delivery techniques they felt more empowered to speak up to legislators, attend NYLA Library Advocacy Day and make local visits with state legislators!
1. Educate from the inside out. Ensure library insiders like staff, trustees, administration, and Friends understand how the library is funded and what the impact of state funds are on the local public, school and academic library. This will increase their confidence, make it easier for them to speak up individually and also help them inspire library patrons to speak up as well!
2. Advocacy vs. Lobbying. Some library insiders have expressed concern that they do not say anything inappropriate because they are fearful they will be seen as *gasp* lobbyists. Library staff and Friends do need to be careful in this area, particularly Friends who do not want to jeopardize their federal tax exempt status. [Friends Groups should read the United for Libraries Fact Sheet #23: Advocacy Campaigns: Legal Limits on Spending for Non-Profits to ensure they understand their limits.] However, no one who loves libraries is banned from speaking up! We all have a role to play to express the importance of libraries in our communities, schools and campuses and whether that takes the form of education, “Did you know that there is a $13 return on investment of state dollars invested in our library system?” or lobbying, “We need you to vote yes on this piece of legislation,” there is always a way to get your point across to a decision maker.
3. Never assume your patrons understand. As much as your patrons love your library that does not necessarily translate into understanding how the library is funded or the role library systems play locally. Try a concerted effort for a few weeks to point out NYLA’s Library Use Value Calculator – load it on your web site, promote it on your Facebook page and feature it in your newsletter. Help patrons understand how smart they are to use the library and calculate how much they save annually by making use of your resources! Then when you make the pitch that reduced state aid can erode the library’s ability to provide cost efficient service, they know – in real dollars – what that means to them personally.
4. Call to Action. Most citizens are not likely to speak up for libraries unless we ask them to. Make your case about the importance of libraries and library systems and then tell someone how they can help. People are often at a loss but if you point out that a letter to the editor, speaking up at a legislators’ town hall meeting or coming to Albany for Library Advocacy Day would be a great way to help, you empower them so they can see how to help you help them!
5. Make it easy. Provide talking points – or use the ones supplied by NYLA and use the tools NYLA provides you with to help library supporters speak up, like the NYLA Online Advocacy Center (which honestly folks, could not be easier to use!).
To help libraries, put the power in the hands of the people. Empower yourself, your internal support system and your patrons and soon the true power of library supporters in New York will be impossible to ignore in Albany!