Earlier this evening I attended a free online webinar hosted by SirsiDynix; it was based on advocacy in libraries and was presented by Stephen Abram. I thought I’d share a summary of the presentation for anyone interested.

What is advocacy and why is it important for libraries?

Advocacy is marketing an ISSUE, it’s a different thing to marketing or public relations – advocacy is an agenda not an event.

Librarians and libraries are often uncomfortable with promotion and marketing, however recent discoveries (e.g. schools using Google etc.) show that it’s not enough to expect people to “know” about the value of libraries, we need to promote them to our funders, our library users, and potential users.

Stephen emphasised that the communication method is key – it needs to be appropriate and timely to start a conversation with people. We need to think more about libraries from a listeners point of view rather than a librarian point of view – how does the library support the community (whether this is general public, academics, health professionals, lawyers etc.)? The space the library can serve for the community is very unique – how do we measure that value and communicate it to our funders?

Selling is not a dirty word – we need to do it more!

A successful advocate is someone who needs to care, have courage, be trustworthy and passionate. An advocate needs to have a story, and respect those whom we need to influence in order to share the story in an appropriate way. An important offshoot of this is that advocates need to have a commitment to communicate this in different ways, for example

One point he raised which I wholeheartedly agree with is that every member of library staff is an advocate and should look for ways the library can support the community. We need to understand the research to be armed with facts, but also be aware that some people won’t believe the facts – we can reach these peope by telling them stories that they can identify with.

How and when is advocacy needed?

When is advocacy needed? Before you need it! Advocacy is often more successful when you are for something rather than against something – you can have a secondary point which is against closing a library, but the main issue to reinforce should be a positive one.

Don’t make people digest our information for themselves – put it in the most appropriate format and tell people your stories. For example, when using images to tell a story use the community or interesting images, not clip art or pictures of books and PCs. The relationship is often with library staff, so make sure they are visually represented appropriately e.g. staff photos on the website.

A metaphor I really liked is to “be the sun” – where sunflowers follow the sun, the library needs to be like the sun for our users; on point, positive, respectful, and aware of what people need as well as our funders’ agendas. He also used a bonsai tree metaphor, where bonsai tree growers use copper wires to shape the tree, we have to be patient with library advocacy and wait for the growth to move in the way you are encouraging. Interesting perspectives!

He also discussed some marketing ideas for getting people into the library, and then using the opportunity to reinforce your library message and develop advocates as well as providing more stories to tell from the event.

Some messages we might want to think about for library advocacy:

  • “The magic happens from the librarian” – not from adding computers, or introducing e-books; it’s the librarian that makes the difference. Very powerful message.
  • We know that we develop knowledge through learning, and libraries support all 7 forms of learning. It’s not just from books.
  • Virtual usage – with changes in the material and resources we supply, we need to have the capability to measure the statistics from this – do we have statistics of our virtual use as well as borrowing statistics? We need to have this in place in order to prove the value of the virtual library, otherwise it is easy to say that the usage of the library has decreased, due to borrowing statistic changes.

He also gave some examples from USA of successful library advocacy – there are some links in his presentation.

On a related note, Lauren Smith has followed Ian Clark‘s excellent example and her article about Doncaster Library cuts has been published in the Guardian Comment Is Free section today. Great way to escape the echo chamber! 🙂

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  • Great post! I’m sorry I missed the webinar so thanks for blogging this. I especially like:

    “When is advocacy needed? Before you need it! Advocacy is often more successful when you are for something rather than against something – you can have a secondary point which is against closing a library, but the main issue to reinforce should be a positive one.”

    I do think that we in libraries we are all too frequently trying to defend our position and it can come off as a little weak at times. I agree that we should aim to highlight the positive at all times.

    • Totally – I definitely agree with this sentiment too. Campaigning against cuts is great, but advocacy shouldn’t only happen at times like this – it should be ongoing and focus on the value libraries give.

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  • whittybus

    Just to say thanks for posting and drawing this to my attention.