What can you do to help libraries succeed?
Each one of us who cares about libraries has asked that question. The answer is another question. Are you talking with your legislators on a regular basis? Librarians are great at grassroots advocacy. When funding or patron services are threatened, librarians across the state can be counted on to answer a call to action and email, call or write their elected officials in Lansing. Thank you, that is incredibly important and our success depends upon it.
However, if you aren’t speaking with your legislators on a regular basis, if they don’t know who you are, if they don’t visit your library frequently, you are missing a tremendous opportunity for outreach. Many libraries regularly host their representatives’ constituent meetings or coffee hours in their library. This is a great first step. Additionally, make certain that you take time to attend that coffee hour or spend a few minutes chatting before or after the meeting. Maybe even invite them to lunch.
What should you talk about? Anything and everything; the weather, kids, community, library services. But don’t stop there. Ask your legislator: What can we do to help you? How can we help you do your job, serve your constituents and reach out to our communities? You want to build a relationship so when it is time to ask for support, they already know and respect you and the value of your library. The better your relationship with a legislator, the more the legislator will respect and listen to you. Let them know you are there to serve as resource. Act like a partner, establish a relationship and see them often, in as many different situations as possible (e.g. office visits, town hall meetings, campaign events, etc.)
Lance Werner, Director of Kent District Library, is well known for his advocacy efforts. What’s his secret? He invites them to go fishing or at least gives them guidance to some great local fishing spots. He talks about his kids and asks about theirs. He questions them about their current challenges in Lansing, in the district, in the local schools, in the community. Then he tries to find common ground for a solution. He also invites them to lunch, often.
When it was time for a local millage, Lance discussed return on investment with local businesses and community partners and he worked to ensure voters understood how the library operated in a fiscally responsible and transparent way. He shares that same transparency and business sense with his Michigan representatives and senators. He is not combative; instead, he looks at them as friends who have numerous and complex pressures on their attention.
Your elected officials can be your allies, although in the midst of a political storm it might appear otherwise. Be a voice of reason, polite and friendly, even during a disagreement. Share your story. Most members of the legislature do not know what today’s libraries offer, so the more examples you can give, the more they will appreciate your library.
Be positive, be respectful and don’t be intimidated. Thank the legislators for their service and for taking the time to talk with you. Being polite builds bridges.
We’ll talk about these issues and more at our advocacy session at MLA 2015 Annual Conference in Novi on Wednesday, October 28 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Gary Owen and Chris Iannuzzi from Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (GCSI) will be on hand provide a legislative update and answer questions. A legislative advocacy training session will immediately follow their update.
If you haven’t already registered for MLA 2015, one-day passes are available – select the Wednesday day pass to attend the legislative update and advocacy training; full conference passes provide the most value in terms of learning and networking opportunities. Register today.
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