By Kimberley Hrivnak
“I don’t know what to say.”
That’s a statement that I regularly hear when it comes to advocacy. There is no one-size-fits- all answer, but there is an easy way to get started.
Build the relationship.
Don’t let your first visit to an elected official be an ask. Start small. Drop off program or event flyers and introduce yourself to the staff. Make a follow-up visit to refresh the flyers and engage in small talk about what is happening at the
library. You never know when someone will get a referral to the library from that office.
Make an appointment.
Arrive prepared to talk to your elected official about all the amazing things the library has and does. Don’t just come with numbers and statistics, but stories: about the children at storytime, the teens that hang out after school
for gaming, the adults that come in to complete job applications, the seniors that stop in to read the paper and chat with friends and neighbors. Talk about the work you and your staff do in the community: about the outreach to daycares and senior centers, the library table at community events, the library’s participation at the chili cookoff that has become an institution.
Most importantly, let them know that while the library is doing great, there is so much more that could be happening if only there were more funding. And be prepared to give specifics as to what more funding would mean to the library.
“Providing your patrons with positive library experiences isn’t just good for the community and the library’s reputation — it’s also great advocacy.”
Keep reaching out.
Invite your elected officials to visit the library. Invite them to get a library card, attend a program, read at storytime, tend bar at a fundraiser, be a judge of an art competition. And keep visiting them – even if you’re just stopping by to say hello. You want them to see you and know that you’re from the library.
And you want them to be able to talk (and brag) about all the good work their library does. You want them to be able to speak to the needs of the library when it’s budget time.
The everyday part.
There is one thing that I am absolutely certain of – advocacy isn’t just going to talk with your elected officials, it’s the business that you do every day. It’s the interactions the library staff have with the patrons that wait outside for the doors to open, the people that rush in to pick up the book they’ve been waiting for, the parents and grandparents that bring children to storytime.
In most libraries, the circulation desk is the first and last thing that people encounter. The expression that ‘first impressions are everything’ exists for a reason. That first encounter sets the tone and the last encounter frames the story of their experience. When patrons leave your library, they’re going to have a story to tell. And they will share the good and the bad. Imagine who they may be talking to. Their neighbor who serves on the borough council, their brother who is a college friend of the state representative, their daughter who works with the mayor’s wife.
And there we have it. Providing your patrons with positive library experiences isn’t just good for the community and the library’s reputation — but it’s also great advocacy. And you never know when you’ll meet with an elected official and they will tell you about the great things they’ve heard about the work the library does.
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Kimberley Hrivnak is Assistant Director of the Allegheny County Library Association and Co-Chair of the PaLA Legislative Committee. She is currently reading “Long Bright River” by Liz Moore.