21st Century Library Advocacy

Matt’s comment to Friday’s Post struck me as significant for two reasons. First, I agree that LIBRARY ADVOCACY in the 21st Century probably does need to be redefined (Geeezz, doesn’t everything these days!) to better reflect the shift from “everyone’s mental image of a library (bun, reading a book, quiet book-filled room) to the image librarians see when they think of libraries.” as Matt stated it. Second, I attended a webinar on Friday, ALA’s Frontline Advocacy webinar to “teach library staff how to promote the value of libraries everyday”.

CHICAGO – Learn how to empower all levels of library staff to become better advocates for their libraries and themselves by joining American Library Association (ALA) 2009-2010 President Camila Alire for a free “Frontline Advocacy” webinar from 1 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. CST on Friday, Oct. 29, 2010.

Presented by Dr. Alire, dean emeritus at the University of New Mexico and Colorado State University; Julie Todaro, dean of library services at Austin Community College in Austin; Patty Wong, librarian/chief archivist of the Yolo County Library in California; and Marci Merola, director, ALA Office for Library Advocacy, this webinar will focus on techniques frontline advocates can use to promote the diverse professionals, resources and services of public, school, academic and special libraries every day.

Attendees will learn about the importance of this new level of library advocacy and how it differs from legislative advocacy; best practices on how to get frontline staff empowered and engaged to integrate frontline advocacy into patron and constituent interactions; and receive teaching and training guides for presenting content on a local level.

I must say, the ideas presented in this webinar sponsored by ALA were eye opening to say the least. While I have the highest regard for all the individuals involved in the webinar presentation – I can’t say the same for the “frontline advocacy” concept. Unless this new approach to advocacy teaches the frontline library employees to do as Matt suggested, change “everyone’s mental image of a library (bun, reading a book, quiet book-filled room) to the image librarians see when they think of libraries.”, it is (IMHO) illconceived. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear anything resembling Matt’s suggestion anywhere in the presentations.

What I heard sounded like a desperate cry for help to an audience that should already be invested in working to ensure their job security. I honestly do not mean to sound harsh, but telling “frontline” library employees that they should advocate to their customers about all the great things their library is and that they, as library professionals, provide is essentially “preaching to the choir”.

OK, the presenters provided some handy and helpful tips for how to do “frontline advocacy”, but all the time I was listening I could only hear AgnosticMaybe Andy in his October 11, 2010 Blog Post “Customer Service is NOT Advocacy” saying; “The terms “advocacy” and “customer service” are not synonyms nor share the same definition nor are interchangeable. Libraries will not remain open because the staff in the library were nice or friendly to their patrons. No decision maker will be swayed by such proclamations of good care by staff. What is required is the ability of the patron to demonstrate the value of the library to them. Customer service is just the fancy frame that encompasses the importance that the library holds in the life of the patron.”

I reiterate – “The terms “advocacy” and “customer service” are not synonyms nor share the same definition nor are interchangeable.” Professing this “frontline advocacy” is simply adding more confusion to an already confusing period in our profession by saddling “frontline” library employees with the responsibility for ADVOCACY. And, yes, I said responsibility. Dr. Julie Todaro, in an answer to a Trustee’s question about what to do with employees who are clearly not suited to this kind of activity, responded with some ways to virtually force the employee to get involved, ending with rewriting their job description to include Frontline Advocacy activities. Are we in such desperate circumstances that we are reduced to forcing employees to advocate for the library? Does anyone honestly believe this is the means to survival of our libraries?

Dr. Camila Alire followed with her counter arguments for “Six Excuses That Won’t Work”. In other words, these excuses for not doing “Frontline Advocacy” are unacceptable.

    1. “My library doesn’t allow me to lobby.”
    2. “I’m shy.”
    3. “I don’t know what to say.”
    4. “My library job doesn’t put me in direct contact with library customers.”
    5. “There are already people who do this.”
    6. “What difference could I make?”

I can’t list all the counter arguments about why these excuses won’t work, but again – Are we in such desperate circumstances that we are reduced to forcing employees to advocate for the library?

OK, I’ll confess. My biggest heartburn with this whole issue is that for the past year I have been reading and researching and discussing and hoping for some coherent guidance from ALA regarding 21st Century Library ANYTHING! – and this is what ALA’s major leaders are giving us? Frontline Advocacy? Where is the 21st Century Library Model? Where is the critical examination of the 21st Century paradigm shift in the profession and the library? Where is the leadership from ALA that even slightly resembles what IMLS has already offered?

Where is ALA in this 21st Century Library conversation? Anybody? Hello? Anybody from ALA out there? Anybody from ALA interested in making a statement about the 21st Century Library?

1 Comment

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One response to “21st Century Library Advocacy

  1. Kay Dee

    Absolutely a fair critism! I couldn’t agree more!

    ALA should have taken the lead on this issue a long time ago and I don’t see them anywhere. (ALA-If I’m wrong, PLEASE…correct me!)

    Frankly, the advocacy cry from ALA has gotten a tad worn…my comment “We got IT! Give me something new!”

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