Advocacy is a fundamental fiduciary responsibility of a library trustee. To advocate for public library services is to make a successful case with elected officials for adequate and predicable financial support. When advocacy is relegated to the library director, that individual ends up in the unfortunate position of having to lobby for a budget that includes his or her own salary. Instead, trustees are expected to use their influence and connections to obtain the resources the library needs.
At the local level, library trustees are expected to take full responsibility for advocacy—with the support of the New Jersey Library Trustee Association, Friends of the Library, community “influentials”, and the general public. At the state level, the New Jersey Library Association orchestrates advocacy as does the Association of Library Trustees, Friends and Advocates at the national level.
Successful advocates 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. They have their fingers on the pulse of the community and know what “makes it tick”—who, when called on, can make things happen. Rather than relying on once-a year-communications at budget time, successful boards develop year ‘round advocacy programs.
A carefully crafted strategy is at the heart of any productive advocacy effort. Best practices include:
- A designated advocacy coordinator who leads the charge
- Clear delineation of the respective roles of trustees, friends, and alliances
- Consistent messages focused on value and benefits rather than costs and features
- Regular trustee attendance at meetings of local government
- Personal relationships and informal meetings with elected officials
- Trustee presentations on behalf of the library
Tips for Meeting with Elected Officials
- Recognize and adapt to their leadership style
- Don’t wait until it’s too late and decisions have already been made
- Research their position on issues
- Assume nothing
- Provide background information
- Go with an agenda
- Avoid surprise and confrontation
- Listen carefully and ask questions
- Ask for support
- If the answer is “no”, find out what “no” means
- Confirm next steps
- Sustain relationship with timely information and invitations to library programs and events
- Say thank you…often…and mean it!
Avner, Marcia. The Lobbying and Advocacy Handbook for Nonprofit Organizations. Saint Paul: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 2001.
Dando, Priscilla. Say It with Data: A Concise Guide to Making Your Case and Getting Results. Chicago, ALA Editions, 2013.
Comito, Lauren et al. Grassroots Library Advocacy—print/e-book bundle. Chicago, ALA Editions, 2012
Keller, Ed and Jon Berry. The Influentials. NY: Free Press, 2003.
McCook, Kathleen de la Pena. A Place at the Table: Participating in Community Building. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000.
Moore, Mary J. The Successful Library Trustee Handbook. Chicago: American Library Association, 2005.
Reed, Sally Gardner and Jullian Kalonick. The Complete Library Trustee Handbook. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2010.
Reed, Sally Gardner and Beth Nawalkinski. Even More Great Ideas for Libraries and Friends. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2008.
Reed, Sally Gardner. Saving Your Library: A Guide to Getting, Using and Keeping the Power You Need. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, 1992.
Seiss, Judith A. The Visible Librarian: Asserting your Value with Marketing and Advocacy. Chicago, American Library Association, 2003.
Association of Library Trustees, Friends and Advocates