Posted by: bluesyemre | May 25, 2018

Library Advocacy, Part 1: The Importance of the Right Message


We realize that library advocacy is a topic that has become more critical with each passing year. It is more challenging than ever to get community support for funding to drive everything from day-to-day operations to capital needs. To provide you with resources on this important issue, we enlisted the help of Patrick Sweeney from EveryLibrary. Using his perspective as a Library Administrator, as well as his experience as Executive Director of EveryLibrary California, he has created a 3-part blog series to give you the basics on how to create and share a strong message for your library.

And, now I’ll leave you to Patrick …

Creating the right message about your library is one of the most important aspects of library advocacy and one that libraries often do poorly. In most cases the lack of effective messaging isn’t entirely the library’s fault; it’s a symptom of how challenging it is to shift the public’s perception of libraries as libraries across the country are evolving and redefining their role and identity in their communities.

There are many factors that complicate the creation of an effective message for a local library. Most significantly, there is an identity crisis happening across the profession as we struggle with the question, “If our brand isn’t just about books then what is it?” Certainly, libraries are not just books anymore (if they ever were), as the proliferation of makerspaces, digital media labs, community led programming, online access to information and outreach and civic engagement initiatives clearly demonstrate.

Yet as William Gibson observed, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed,” many local community libraries have not evolved beyond the traditional model. This leads to a disconnect between the national message of libraries as transformational institutions of learning and community hubs, and the local reality of what the community library has to offer. So, how does your library go about creating a message that resonates with your community?

About EveryLibrary and why politics

Much of the information that I will be sharing comes from the research and practical on-the-ground consulting experience of EveryLibrary. EveryLibrary has a large body of experience in helping libraries to politically advocate for themselves and we collect and analyze data from actual library election messaging efforts. We are highly adept at analyzing local library political climates and recommending and training on practical techniques that the library can employ to effectively advocate and build real and demonstrable political support in their community. This experience gives us a specific knowledge base to inform how we create messages for libraries.

EveryLibrary was founded as a 501c(4) Political Action Committee to address the fact that 85% of public library funding comes through taxes raised by local elections and politics. This means that if libraries are to have a stable tax-supported funding stream, they need to learn to work effectively within their local political environment — a skill set that many libraries lack. Prior to the founding of EveryLibrary, there was no organization collecting and analyzing data on library elections and politics nor focused solely on teaching librarians how to politically advocate for themselves. The data that EveryLibrary has collected through 25 campaigns over the last 2 years is what informs our discussion and practice around a number of vital political activities, most importantly, messaging.

Why Are We Talking About the Right Message?

The most important instrument that libraries can arm themselves with is their message. This message is their guiding principle, it’s what will motivate voters to go to the polls or write to politicians on behalf of the library. Messages in political campaigns are developed through a process that ensures that it resonates with the largest percentage of the target demographic, and large-scale political campaigns may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on message development before a campaign even begins. However, while big money politics can afford $100,000 slogans and messages, your library probably can’t. That’s OK, we are going to take what we’ve learned from national campaigns and local elections and boil it down to the basics for something you can use.

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