New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Urban Librarians Unite: Advocacy Strategies that Work

Lauren Comito, Director of Communications and Operations, Urban Librarians Unite

Urban Librarians Unite (ULU) is a not for profit in NYC dedicated to advocacy for and the enrichment of urban libraries and librarianship. Most specifically we work in NYC to advocate for sufficient or increased funding for library services in all three library systems. ULU is unique in that we exist outside of the three library systems. This means can say and do things that's larger more politically dependent library can't, and we frequently do.

Background

ULU grew out of a desire for more communication between front line staff in the three NYC library systems. It originally started as a monthly get together for beer and tacos. In early 2010 when the first major budget cuts started to go through, a small group of taco lovers got together to start the first Save NYC Libraries Postcard campaign. In the years since, ULU has advocated for library funding each year, as the funding situation continues to deteriorate in the city.

Strategies

Save NYC Libraries has had two major strategies for advocacy, large events and grassroots communications. We hold an annual postcard drive to allow our customers  and other library fans to let their elected officials know that libraries are important budget priorities for them. Each year we collect between 2 and 4 thousand postcards, this is in addition to the postcard and petition signatures that the library systems collect. In addition to the postcards, we have held a yearly 311 call in day. 311 is New York City’s information phone number, but it is also a place where citizens can call to let the mayor know what they are thinking. To concentrate the effect, we try to get everyone to call on one scheduled day. Our website, www.savenyclibraries.org, stands as a place where interested people can go to see the full effect of cuts. We try to keep it as a clearinghouse of information for the public and for activists who are interested in helping out.

The other strategy, large events, came from the need to do something other than a standard rally. We’ve held three 24 Hour Read Ins over the past few budget seasons, but we have also marched across the Brooklyn Bridge as zombies, hugged the 42nd Street Library, and read Harry Potter out loud in as many languages as we could manage (at the same time). Think of it as misbehaved children crying out for attention.

What Now?

So far our strategies, combined with the massive amounts of work done by all three library systems, have worked. We’ve slowed down the budget cuts enough to be manageable, but each year the new cuts include the old ones in a giant snowball. So this year we do it all again. If you are interested in helping, or just want to know where to send a postcard, you can find us at www.savenyclibraries.org, or www.urbanlibrariansunite.org.  If you’d like to read more about our method of advocacy and how you can make it work for you, you can find more information in our book, Grassroots Library Advocacy.