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We All Need to Champion Our Libraries

31 Dec 2016 11:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

If you believe in the value of your library, you need to advocate for it. That could mean going to a rally like the one last year at the State Capitol.

But it also means speaking up for your library whenever you get a chance, whether at your town council meeting, to your friends and family, or at your business.

“If you don’t do it, nobody is going to do it for you,” said Libby Post of the firm Communications Services of Albany, N.Y.

That was her message at an advocacy workshop Jan. 20 at the South Windsor Library. It was one of six free workshops she offered library Friends, staff, trustees and the public. Four workshops have already been held and two more are scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 27 — 10 a.m. to noon at the Oliver Wolcott Library in Litchfield and 2 to 4 p.m. at the Easton Public Library.

Back up your support with statistics, which you can get from your library or the Connecticut State Library at http://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/dld/stats.

Funding is always the issue, Post said, but people need to start thinking in terms of how much money their libraries save them. Circulation staff could put a dollar amount to each person’s check out — 5 DVDs or books are saving that patron $100.

Libraries serve two-thirds of the public using less than 2% of all tax dollars. And every year their budgets are cut.

But, “we can no longer afford to do more with less,” she said. Many school libraries have closed so students depend even more on public libraries.

A Pew Research study showed “people love their libraries even more for what they say about their communities than for how libraries met their personal needs,” Post said “What would it say about your community if you let your library close?”

The Pew study said that 90% of Americans, age 16 and older, say closing their local library would impact their communities and 63% said it would have a mayor impact. And 18- to 34-year olds are the fastest growing number of library users, she said. They use the library to find out if what they read online is true.

“Libraries give people a tremendous chance to succeed, and people say they realize that,” Post said.

Libraries have a great reputation for customer service and can build on that to advocate. Staff should want to because it’s their salaries on the line.

People who have extensive economic, social, technological and cultural resources are most likely to use and value libraries. Library supporters need to target the others — people who don’t use technology, don’t have pride in their community and are less likely to take part in cultural activities.

Libraries need to make sure the public knows of all they offer, including doing this through their websites and other social media.

Does your library partner with the schools? Serve veterans and immigrants? Help local businesses and job seekers? Teach technology including the latest things such as 3-D printers? Let people know.

Once you have gathered facts about your library, you need to get them out to the public and elected officials, Post said. Start by figuring out who in your community are the leaders. Officials will expect to hear from your library board but what about the head of the Rotary, the hospital president, the chamber of commerce?

“Reach out to groups [and invite them to] use your meeting rooms,” she said. “And while they’re there, talk about information you might have on their subject in the library.”

If you have Little League sign-up at your library, have a display on baseball books, maybe even buy a sign at the ball diamond. That way you might be reaching people who haven’t been using your library and turning them into supporters.

“Volunteer messengers not directly affiliated with the library can be more powerful,” Post said.

If you are doing a campaign for an issue, whether it be to expand or whatever, she said it’s important to have a strong, clear message. “Giving away bookmarks [with a few facts about your issue] at the circulation desk is one of the most potent ways of reaching people,” she said.

Get officials to come to libraries when there are a lot of people there, maybe a kick-off to summer reading. And once you give your pitch to people, don’t just say, “I hope you’ll support us.” Instead ask, “Will you support us on this?”

Don’t apologize that libraries need funding. In many towns, they are part of the government. They are as essential to a community as schools, health care and the police.

Appeal to emotions when you sell your library. Post said one library she worked for used a successful grandma campaign, saying such things as: “Grandma says everyone has to pay their fines.” “Grandma says you can renew your books by phone.” “Grandma says be responsible about what you view online.”

Counter any claims made by anti-tax people with facts about how libraries are essential, both for the items they provide and the space they offer.

You can bring advocacy to your library, Post said, using these steps:

  1. Don’t get overwhelmed
  2. Have a plan
  3. Determine your brand
  4. Be bold
  5. Be clear and concise
  6. Look at other successful libraries

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