I did my first keynote in Wellington a few weeks ago, and have to thank my library colleagues in the region for offering me the opportunity to try my hand at a new venture. The topic was advocacy for school libraries – why would we, and how might we begin?
Essentially, my message was that successful advocacy rests largely on our ability to persuade our (learning) community that we add value, and that we are indispensable. The subtext is that we cannot accomplish this overnight, and it needs to be deeply embedded in the psyche of the community long before the budget-cutting knives come out. If our community value us, they will fight tooth and nail for our survival. Better still, if our wider community knows our value, the knives won’t even leave the scabbard.
So how does this idea sit if we apply it to the public library sector? Yes, we can and should strive for excellence and consciously build customer loyalty. We are, however, limited by what we can say in the public arena, as our first loyalty as employees must, rightly, be to our employers and funding bodies, our local councils. Our ability to advocate, openly, for the survival of libraries in the political context is severely limited.
Enter the library manager, one of whose primary duties it is to spend ratepayer money wisely, to make savings and create efficiencies wherever possible. Will Manley’s excellent post places this role in a context that shows how difficult it is for our managers to advocate successfully while meeting the success criteria within their position descriptions. Will argues that successful advocacy comes from the community – in the New Zealand context, that would be the ratepayers, the readers, the raving fans.
Can we afford to leave this to chance, hoping that the community will rise up if we need them? I’m far too fond of strategic planning to willingly don the blinkers and ear-muffs needed to walk that path!
So how do we go about setting up this kind of community advocacy? Do you have a model that you can share with the library community? A ‘Board of Trustees’, or a strong ‘Friends of the Library’ group? Is advocacy structured into your strategic planning?
Share your thoughts, muse aloud. Mutual musings may just spark some really good ideas and conversations. These are conversations we must have, because our survival may depend on it.