by Fallon Bleich, Head Editor, INALJ Oklahoma
On Library Advocacy: You Don’t Need to Work There to Support Your Library
Recently, there has been a kerfuffle in the library world over an article written by Michael Rosenblum for Huffpost (seen here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-rosenblum/whats-a-library_b_3239502.html) and what that means for libraries as a whole. I will admit that this article did kind of fire me up a little bit (Google does not replace the library!), but what I got from it more than anything else is that advocacy is still important in this day and age. Sure, a lot of people said “Oh great, another rich white guy who doesn’t patronize the library”, and while that may be true in this instance, Mr. Rosenblum’s attitude is indicative that people still think that way, despite a lot of work to change it. Also, we need the rich white guys to support libraries. These are the people who have the power to make legislative and financial change for libraries, so we have to be careful in our response to their opinions. There is no need to jump down people’s throats because they don’t agree with us, but we do need to do more showing and less telling. Let’s showcase our library programs and how great libraries are for communities.
Now, I’m not advocating that we as librarians bend over backwards to serve only the wealthy; that’s not what libraries are about. However, what we do need to make sure of is that this tired message doesn’t keep repeating in the news cycle. Libraries are vital to communities and we need to keep repeating this fact until we’re blue in the face. “But I don’t have a library job yet,” you say. That’s ok, because you don’t need one to be a library advocate. As many of my co-head editors have mentioned, getting involved in the library, even in a volunteer capacity, looks fantastic on your resume. Even if you can’t do that, look at how your library is funded. Is it through county taxes? Or, like mine, is it part of the city’s budget? Get involved in advocating for library budgets to be expanded. If you can, go to city council or county meetings when library budgets are part of the agendas. (You can typically find the agendas on the city or county websites, usually before the meeting is held.) Stand up as a concerned citizen for your local library! These people are paid to listen to the citizens of their jurisdiction and that’s why these meetings are public.
If you can’t go to the meetings or you can’t volunteer, then get involved in the state or national organizations. It can’t be said enough, being involved in ALA or your local library association helps so much in your career. It will give you experience in what positions you’re interested in, and it helps you learn how best to advocate for libraries. Join a committee that covers a topic you’re interested in, such as LGBT literature, diversity in ALA, etc, and get active in what they’re doing to advocate for libraries and librarians. Finally, just use word of mouth to help your library out. Know of people who have kids but have never set foot into the library? Check out the children’s programs and promote, promote, promote. Does your library have free wi-fi or free computers and you know people who do not? Push them in the direction of the library. Getting patrons into the library is just the first step, but it’s an important one. The more people who patronize libraries, the more that they see what libraries can do for communities, and the more advocates we get. We may not be able to change everybody’s minds, but we can sure try!