There are many skills library school can give you, but often, an understanding of the role of librarian activists isn’t one of them. While I took two classes on ethics and government policy in relation to librarianship, I didn’t come away from those classes with a practical idea of how librarians can advocate for themselves. Perhaps it is because librarians shy away from having an opinion on anything in an effort to remain unbiased. But libraries are constantly struggling to get a piece of the funding pie, and we need library advocates to do that. Who better to relate the awesomeness of libraries to politicians than the librarians themselves?
A recent post on whether librarians should be activists from Hack Library School got me thinking about this topic again. The author of the blog defines activism as:
“Activism is anything you do that supports a cause and encourages change.”
The post goes on to say that grand actions can be amazing and turn heads, but the little everyday things also make a difference in garnering support for libraries, as well as encouraging change in the way the public views and supports libraries.
I think, however, that librarians have a tendency to do small things and hope people notice. The small actions are important, but they need to be supplemented by more to ensure libraries remain to help people in the future.
I thought I would suggest a few things (some big and some small) you can do to advocate for libraries, whether you work in them or just love them.
- Spread the word: There are plenty of ways you can share your love of libraries. You can share a success story with a friend, talk to family members who don’t visit their library regularly or suggest the library to someone who is looking for help with everything from computers to research. You can also write an Op-Ed for a newspaper or send your government representatives direct emails. If you want to go even bigger, you can even plan and sponsor a library fundraiser or lead your local Friends of the Library group.
- Stay in the know: Whether you go big or small, you need to stay informed. There are a number of ways you can remain aware of how politicians are viewing or debating libraries. The easiest is subscribing to District Dispatch, a service of the American Library Association. The emails from District Dispatch have let me know when I need to take action on an issue and inform me when library advocates have successfully won funding.
- Attend National Library Legislative Day: I have not yet attended a library legislative day but it is on my bucket list. I have discussed the experience with members of my state association’s legislative committee, and it sounds like an experience worth having. If you don’t know what it’s all about, this is Library Legislative Day in a nutshell: A group of librarians and library lovers go directly to the politicians who can actually make a difference. They are provided with talking points and rely on their own experiences to connect these points to real-life stories for a politician. Then they thank their politician, and move on to the next. The beauty of Library Legislative Day is that, except for the actual boots on the ground portion, a lot of the work is done for you. ALA identifies those with actual budgetary power, sets up the appointments, helps you clarify the best points to make, and sometimes offers monetary support. My state association, for example, offers stipends to support the cost of attending. If you happen to be available on May 2 (I have a conference presentation to give, so I will have to miss it), then consider signing up! Also check with your state library association to see if they offer funding to cover hotel stays and such.
If you are passionate about the role libraries play in society and have shared that passion, then I think it’s safe to say that you are a library advocate. But being an activist is about being louder and trying to effect change.
Here’s a few links of further reading on the topic of professional librarianship and the role librarians play in library activism and advocacy.
- Library Journal‘s Blatant Berry discusses the “question of whether librarians should be civically active or sacrifice their freedom of political expression in order to remain ‘neutral’ to the public.”
- Library Journal tracks referenda for library funding throughout the country. It’s an interesting read for those who are paying attention to trends in library funding.
- District Dispatch offers $183 million reasons you should keep track of the U.S. budget process. The budget process can be incredibly complicated, but this article offers a few tips on understanding some key information.