Advocating for the Library

Advocating for the Library

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How Your Board Can Advocate for the Library

Library Trustees have the responsibility for maintaining adequate financial support for their libraries. As a member of the library board, one should work towards communicating and building relationships with elected officials towards this end goal.  In the September Info & Action sheet we outlined the various forms of municipal government so that you could better understand who the decision makers are when it comes to providing your library with funding above the threshold of 1/3 of a mil.  The next step is to learn strategies to positively influence these decision makers over the course of the year and particularly during the budget season.

Advocating for funding is one of the top ten responsibilities of library board trustees.  All ten are found on the excellent website of the N.J. Library Trustee Association at: under “Roles & Responsibilities of Library Trustees.” 

Board Education Component – Advocating for Positive Action

Now that you know who your decision makers are, you need to get to know them! According to the NJ Trustee Association, trustees are well informed about library funding basics, their library’s financial needs, and their municipality’s budget. They have a sound understanding of the vision and priorities of local decision makers and how to align library services with the goals of local government Rather than relying on once a year communications at budget time, successful boards develop year round advocacy programs.

Develop your advocacy program by designating an Advocacy coordinator to take the lead.  Clearly define the roles of your advocacy groups: Trustees, Friends, and Alliances.  Then get going.

Gather data about your local decision makers:

  • Regular trustee attendance at local government meetings
  • Personal relationships and informal meetings with elected officials
  • Interviews and Surveys

Influence positive action:

You might find in enacting your advocacy program that your decision makers are very positive towards your library.  Good for you!  But remember, you are ultimately trying to get to know your local decision makers to secure funding.  According to OCLCs reportFrom Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America many local officials have very positive feelings towards the library, but do not see it as an essential expense. Once you have your data, you can better take action.

  • Provide consistent messages focused on value and benefits rather than costs and features
  • Trustees conduct presentations on behalf of the Library
  • Stress the Library’s ROI (return on investment) 
  • Partner, Partner, Partner—tying library to other public agencies has been shown to increase public official support.
  • Be Proactive—no one is going to give you the ideas, elected officials respond to your passion.
  • Vocal patrons can influence elected officials. 
  • Libraries are neutral and safe and can be a feel good/ do good project for elected officials, and there is value in that! Find ways to get them to take on your cause.

Director’s Role

You may find that you are the “designated advocacy coordinator” who will be leading the charge for your library.  Consider working with your trustees to develop an interview or survey to gauge the thinking of your decision makers.  Survey Monkey is easy to use and you can also use the samples found on the BCCLS advocacy website for ideas.

Interviews, surveys are an opportunity for you to find out how they envision library service.  They may not know what’s out there that you could have so you want to be very proactive here—what don’t you have that you could if you had funding?  What did you have that you don’t now because of lack of funding; what do you have but no one knows it because you don’t have the funding to market it?  Remember, you are not just trying to find out if they like the library, but how you can align library services with their goals.  

Community feedback is also vital to your advocacy.Again, feedback from community surveys can provide trustees with valuable talking points when meeting with government officials. They can also help you identify your go to people.

Remember to sustain your relationship with your key decision makers:

  • Keep them up to date with timely information, invitations to library programs and events
  • Find roles for them within your activities and programs
  • Say thank you often, and mean it!