21st Century Librarianship – Part 6, Advocacy


My previous Post on the topic of 21st Century Library Advocacy contained less Advocacy and more frustration that ALA has not addressed this whole 21st Century Library issue. So, in an effort to rectify that rant, this Post will focus on Advocacy.

AND, I’ll begin with an example from our friend – Wikipedia. As surprising at is sounds, there is a Public library advocacy page with some excellent examples of public library advocacy, as well as examples of Successes and Failures. It is a surprisingly long article with considerable information from the history of public library advocacy to local, state and national efforts. It is chockfull of handy tips and suggestions and programs – but it is virtually ALL traditional advocacy – nothing new or 21st Century about it. (Much credit goes to the librarians who created this resource.)


I am open to the possibility of conceding that in some areas of 21st Century Librarianship there may be little if any distinction between 21st Century and previous century practices – although I have seen no clear evidence of that to date – and, library advocacy “techniques” may be that small specific area. Otherwise, all evidence points toward distinct differences between then and now.

While it is not only impressive but satisfying that libraries are saving themselves through grassroots and other advocacy efforts using what appears to be traditional advocacy techniques, my assessment of circumstances and environments indicate significant changes in this Century, so much so that traditional advocacy efforts will become ineffective – if not now very soon – certainly as regards the “library advocacy message”.

If you read the Successes and Failures section of the Wikipedia article, the major distinction seems to be the public support element – very high in the successes and very low in the failures. Activism vs. Apathy. While it seems obvious this is a key element of any community progress effort, maybe one difference in having public support or not is the message. How long will the public listen to the same tired message of equal access, intellectual freedom and public institution for an educated citizenry before it falls on deaf ears?

Social Media & Library Advocacy
In a recent Post at AndyW’s Blog at LISNews.org entitled Social Media & Library Advocacy, he wrote that; “…social media is excellent for reaching a multitude of people, but it lacks some of the strong bonds that turn interest into action.”

When it comes to online advocacy, it really depends on what you are asking people to do. The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream group was rather easy: join the group! That’s one mouse button click on the interface. From there, I encouraged people to send in their flavor choices through Ben & Jerry’s flavor submission interface. People could suggest their ideas on the group’s wall. It gave any Ben & Jerry people a very easy way to gauge interest in the group: they could visit the page or check on the flavor submissions. Overall, not much was being asked of the people who participated except to join and share. There was an aspect of library advocacy attached to the group in raising awareness for library funding issues. For those who were really taken with the idea, they took the further steps of adding their own.

In contrast to the Save NJ Libraries group, it was a widely different group for its aim and purpose. There was funding, jobs, and entire library locations at risk if action was not taken. It was more than just join the group and share it; we wanted people to write, call, email, and demonstrate their support for the library. We shared information, developments, and stories playing within the local media to build morale and keep people in the loop as to how others were faring around the state.

In my opinion, this is what can make or break a social media campaign. It’s not about the believers, it’s about getting the fence sitters to hop on over and toss in their effort. And, from what I have experienced and read about, it’s certainly not easy.

It appears that there are new advocacy techniques that are worth exploring.


ALA Washington Office promoted its 2010 Library Advocacy Day with this video.

One minute, 20 seconds of WHAT? What did you get from this video clip?

This is a perfect example of an OLD library advocacy message. Maybe telling the viewer something they DON’T know would be more useful. ‘Nuf said!


What would a new library advocacy message sound like? Interestingly, any change in the same ol’ – same ol’ message will be an improvement. Tell people things they DON’T already know about your library – don’t just repeat “give us more money for the good of the community”. Get them to think about the library differently than ever before – NOT just stacks, story hours, and shush.

Return on Investment
One new message element involves the ROI – return on investment – or, the value of the public tax dollars spent on the library that come back to the public in tangible and intangible ways. This fact-based information brings a sense of credibility to economic benefits of investments in the local library. If the library can state, based on ROI proven analysis techniques, which for every tax dollar invested into the library citizens receive $5 return on their investment, which means libraries are a good investment! While all other departments of government are obvious “cost centers”, the library can be seen as a “profit center” in the sense that it returns more to the community than it costs. Who wouldn’t invest in that? (Resources for ROI information are in my March 8 Post “The 21st Century Library is More:”.)

New Content
One example is based on OCLC’s 2008 study From Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America that explored attitudes and perceptions about library funding. It is a seminal study in the sense that it gives every local advocacy group tools to use to understand their public and how people are inclined to act or not act regarding their “vote” to support their local library. The findings include:

  • • Library funding support is only marginally related to library visitation.
    Perceptions of librarians are an important predictor of library funding support.
    • Voters who see the library as a transformational force rather than an informational source are more likely to increase taxes in its support.
  • Translated into your “New Library Advocacy Message”, these findings sound to me like:

  • • Don’t bother to harp on circulation or library visits, or “who” is using the library. Numbers won’t help you that much, and you’re using valuable time reiterating facts that are generally common knowledge that could be better spent on HOW your library is valuable to the community.
    • Ensure that the public perception of your librarians is VERY positive (i.e., an argument FOR customer service equaling library advocacy), both by expertise as well as by professionalism.
    • Promote your library as transformational, rather than informational. Tell your story of how you transformed someone’s life!
  • There is NOTHING easy about advocacy! Getting people inspired to ACT is ESSENTIAL to the success of any library advocacy effort. Giving people a NEW LIBRARY ADVOCACY MESSAGE to persuade them to ACT is CRITICAL.


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    2 responses to “21st Century Librarianship – Part 6, Advocacy

    1. Jacob

      I’m sorry to hear you think our video is such garbage. Maybe next time you’ll enter our competition with a better work? For reference, here are the other contestants:

      I look forward to seeing your superior work when you’ve put it together.

      • My comment was simply:
        “ALA Washington Office promoted its 2010 Library Advocacy Day with this video.
        [Embedded Video]
        One minute, 20 seconds of WHAT? What did you get from this video clip?
        This is a perfect example of an OLD library advocacy message. Maybe telling the viewer something they DON’T know would be more useful. ‘Nuf said!

        WOW! Somebody is really sensitive if you took it that the video ALA WO selected was garbage? I guess you would know better than me. I’m just a lone librarian working in the field. You are the ALA Washington Office.

        Thank you for the link to the video competition submissions. The six video submissions from the field that I watched were quite good, for the most part. If you were trying to imply that you took the best submission, I’d have to rethink that.

        • “Imagine” by Springfield Township at least had a 21st Century Skills message.
        • “Library Advocacy Day” by Paribus Films also had a good message, even though the music dated it as did the content of the message.
        • “Library Advocacy Day” by Baldwinsville Public Library was not bad, had a good message but the presentation was weak.
        • “Library Champion” at least offered a transformational rather than an informational message.
        • “Library Advocacy Day: Fight for Your Library” was a very stark message with off-putting music, but no worse than the one you selected.
        • “Questions of the Heart” was probably the most innovative message I viewed, but as research has proven, sentiment doesn’t convert people to support libraries.

        Maybe next year ALA can scrounge the money to make its own video message if they want it to be more effective. IMHO a 21st Century Library Advocacy message would net better results. Or did anybody measure the impact of the video?

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