Frontline Advocacy Is Everybody's Job: ALA President Camila Alire's Presidential Initiative Offers a Systematic Approach to Staff Participation

By Wong, Patty; Todaro, Julie | American Libraries, June-July 2010 | Go to article overview

Frontline Advocacy Is Everybody's Job: ALA President Camila Alire's Presidential Initiative Offers a Systematic Approach to Staff Participation


Wong, Patty, Todaro, Julie, American Libraries


What makes this initiative different from previous advocacy initiatives is that it engages and empowers frontline library staff to work on advocacy at a different level than how library administrators, trustees, friends, and grassroots users operate," says Alire. "The traditional focus has been on how to interact with elected officials and decision-makers. Frontline advocacy is about everyone else--those not in top-level positions who deal with decisionmakers--learning to articulate the message to people both inside and outside the library."

Frontline advocacy has long been a part of Alire's approach to success. The concept made its first appearance on a national level through the "Power of Personal Persuasion," an initiative launched during Alire's tenure as president of ALA's Association of College and Research Libraries in 2005-06, so it comes as no surprise that Alire adopted frontline advocacy as part of her presidential initiative.

Community central

Frontline advocacy focuses on advocating at points of service and engagement and encourages staff and administrators in all types of libraries to work together to tell our stories about the value of libraries and the value of library staff as part of a larger theme "Libraries: The Heart of ALL Communities," which focuses both on advocacy and literacy.

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"It's important to emphasize that it's not just about the patron interaction," says Marci Merola, director of ALA's Office for Library Advocacy (OLA), "it's also about everyone within a library employee's circle of influence.

"The timing of this initiative is perfect," she continues. "With so many threats to libraries around the country, we're seeing time and time again that it's citizen involvement that's saving the day. Frontline advocates are the conduits to those citizens.

"It's ironic that for every person who is reticent about getting involved in frontline advocacy, I'm finding that there is someone else who says "I do this every day ... I just didn't know that we had a name for it--I didn't know it was called frontline advocacy."

"But what's been missing up until now, and what Alire's initiative provides, is a systematic, formalized approach to frontline advocacy. It's not rocket science: I think that inherently, everyone wants to feel good about their job. And everyone who works in a library knows they're doing something towards the greater good. But can they quantify it? Can they tell their neighbors exactly how their job is helping the economy or boosting test scores in the community? If you can empower those people with the right messages--talking points, statistics and the relevance about what their library does--what they do--they're not going to stop talking about it."

ALA's Office for Library Advocacy has played a key role in developing the initiative, as did the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services. ALA's Office for Diversity and Governance Office have been part of a steering committee strategically working on Alire's initiative since her election to the post in April 2009. In addition, two member working groups were formed representing libraries of all types, including one to create and design planners and one to review content. Much broader than Alire's "Power of Personal Persuasion," frontline advocacy focuses on content specific to all types of libraries; content delivered in a variety of teaching and learning activities; and the widest target audience for involvement: all library frontline employees, at all levels of employment within organizations, including management and administration.

Online content

As libraries begin to or continue to integrate frontline advocacy into their staffs' daily routines, the reality is that the initiative becomes the core of communication between employee and patron (or friends, neighbors, relatives) no matter the type or size of library.

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