Library Advocacy. Everyone thinks they do it. But, really what is it?

by  Libby Post, President, Communication Services

Advocacy is the art of persuading others to take up your cause. It is the art of getting others to carry your message for you. It is the art of building your base, getting emotional buy in from your supporters and turning them into advocates when you need them.

Advocacy is not just a one person operation. It is, like your library’s brand, something that should be part and parcel to everything you and your staff does. Every speaking engagement by the Library Director should be seen as part of advocacy, part of building your base of support. Be prepared—have a sign-up sheet for folks who want to be more engaged. Then, communicate with them.

"Advocacy is a long term commitment"

Think of customer service as part of your advocacy activities. The best way to get your patrons to support you is by giving them the best possible service. Make sure your Friends group is engaged and understands how important it is for them stand up for the library.

Advocacy is a long-term commitment. You start with one effort and build off of that for the next. For example, the work we’re doing for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library to create a special legislative district public library for the entire county. We’ve been working for just about two years on this. But, before the district vote happens we still have to work to make sure the County funds the library at the level it needs.

For the 2013 budget, our campaign was “Turn the Lights Back On: Flip the Switch for Library Funding.” We were asking the County Executive and County Legislature for enough funding to restore the 5,100 hours that had been lost across the 37 libraries throughout the county. We didn’t get all the money we asked for but we did garner over 2,500 new library supporters—folks who we can educate about the district and, in turn, have them carry our message.

It was a multi-level campaign—old fashioned postcards with an event delivering thousands to the County Executive’s office, a website (, Facebook (, Twitter (  and a YouTube channel (BECPL FlipTheSwitch). We hit all the channels and got a terrific response.

A good advocacy campaign has an internal and an external goal. In this case, our internal goal was met—increase our number of supporters. The external goal was harder to achieve because of the financial constraints we’re living under. The library did, however, get more funding than the County Executive had originally proposed and some hours will be restored.

It’s important to celebrate the little wins and the big wins. And it’s just as important to thank your supporters.

Remember, advocacy is an art. You don’t need to be able to draw or paint in oil. You just need to have a compelling message that moves people. And, you have to make advocacy part of everything you do!